Day 364: Just One Word… Plastics.

originally published December 29, 2012

In 1989, we were handed a prediction of one particular vision of the future. We caught a glimpse of 2015, seen through the eyes of Marty McFly, and the future looked damn exciting. Hoverboards, self-tying shoes and TV glasses inspired the 14-year-old me. They told me that yes, the future was thrilling, technology was going to continue its exponential climb, and someday within my lifetime I’d get to pilot my very own flying car.

Predicting every-day life in the future is a pastime that dates back as far as the point in which prehistoric humans realized that the big yellow ball in the sky would probably keep popping out of that mountain in the east for a long time. The problem with making a forecast on future norms is that you’re either going to look like a schmuck when your ideas aren’t realized (see my complete flying car rant here), or else you will be bang-on, and your contemporaries in the present are going to think you’d smoked a big fat joint of sci-fi-weed, rolled up in a page from a Robert Heinlein novel.

In 1955, Disneyland offered Tomorrowland as the section of their theme park devoted to the future. Two years later they debuted a showhome, designed to demonstrate what life would be like in the year 1986. Some of their predictions were astoundingly accurate. Most of them were a little weird. None of them included the ability to access pornography from anywhere in the world using a portable phone.

This is the Monsanto House of the Future.

And yes, there is a video that details the entire thing.

The first thing we notice is that this particular exhibit – I can’t call it a ride because this is no doubt one of the parts of 50’s-era Disneyland that kids would have put up with so their parents would let them go on the Teacups – is that was sponsored by Monsanto, a Missouri-based agricultural biotechnology corporation. Specifically, their Plastics division. This is an important point, given that most everything in this house (including most of the air molecules and faucet-water) is made out of plastic.

The home is designed in four equal wings, so that from above it resembles a puffy plus-sign, or some kind of marshmallow treat from a store-brand Lucky Charms cereal rip-off. The video describes the design as ‘strangely graceful’. That is exactly how I was described in my high school yearbook.

The first three minutes of the video shows us the current scope of plastics in the modern (1957) home, including plastic in appliances, in lighting, and even in people.

Now we get to the goods – a true glimpse into what life in the late 80’s will look like, minus the joyous musings of Balki Bartokomus.

We start in the kitchen. The woman in the video is imagining the joys of working in such a kitchen, because in 1957 it was still taken as a natural fact that women should aspire no further than working in a kitchen – maybe a futuristic kitchen if she had the mental capacity.

With the touch of a button, you could adjust the lighting behind a series of plastic panels embedded in the ceiling. All we have to do is look up some modern kitchen renovation ‘before’ pictures on Google to see that his did in fact come true in the 80’s:

I have this same lighting in my own kitchen, and can’t wait to yank it out, throw it in a heap on my front lawn and laugh at its pain while it burns. But Monsanto was predicting the 80’s here, and that was pretty much accurate.

The dishwasher is embedded in the counter, and doubles as a dish storage device. Okay – that works in this case because it doesn’t use water; it uses ultra-sonic waves. This will never actually happen because it would kill the detergent industry, which I understand is tremendously intertwined with the mafia.

These facts are far more interesting when I just make them up.

Oh, and the dishes in the Monsanto house are plastic. I warned you.

Refrigerators and freezers are a thing of the past. In the future, they’ll be called ‘Cold Zones’. Following this logic, I’m sure the breadbox will be renamed the Grain Sector, your chairs will be known as Buttock Quadrants, and the liquor cabinet will come to be called the Intoxicadium. Ah, the future.

Everything in the kitchen either lowers from the ceiling or raises from the countertop. Clever, but having that many moving parts is an indicator that you’ll need to hire a full-time live-in handyman. One of these emerging doodads is the microwave oven. The first countertop microwave showed up in 1967, so this was probably Monsanto’s biggest coup of foresight.

The house of the future will feature a centralized climate control – another lucky strike by Monsanto’s crystal ball. Except this one can also direct the smell of salty sea air into each room. We got ripped off – I want this technology. And not just so I can prank my family and rig this device to disperse farts into their rooms. We have four bulldogs, they take care of that.

Dishes, cups, countertops, floors, walls, ceilings, tables… everything in this home is plastic. That’s right, plastic walls. Did I mention the Plastics division of Monsanto sponsored this display? They probably handed out business cards at the end.

The furniture in the bedrooms are all plastic as well, which is great if you have a bed-wetter. And what child could remain in control of their bodily functions when surrounded by nothing natural? Even the fabrics are “man-made”, which likely means a lot of polyester. I’d love to see the colorful glob when one of these future-homes burns down.

That blurry image up there is the best one I could find of the miracle telephone in the Monsanto House. It uses push-button technology, which wasn’t released to the public until 1963. Before that, all phones were either rotary-dial, or the kind where you pick up the ear-piece and yell, “Operator! Operator!” into the mouthpiece until some kindly lady connected your call. Also, the Future-Phone is a hands-free speakerphone, which wasn’t invented until a year after the exhibit debuted, in 1958.

In the living room, the “stereophonic hi-fi equipment” is built-in. Monsanto probably didn’t think portability was going to be a big trend in the future. As for the rest of their predictions, some were off (the adjustable-height bathroom sinks) while others did come true (the electric toothbrush). In all, I’d say Monsanto did pretty well, aside from their obsession with plastic.

The attraction thrived in Tomorrowland until it was replaced in 1967 by the Adventure Through Inner Space, a ride I’ll delve into tomorrow. When they went in to dismantle the House Of The Future, the wrecking ball bounced right off it. Torches didn’t work, neither did jackhammers or chainsaws. They ended up using choker chains to crush the home into smaller parts. They gave up on taking apart the foundation, and it remains in Disneyland today, as a large planter in the Pixie Hollow attraction.

I suppose if nothing else, the House Of The Future was damn sturdy. Something to be said for that.

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