Imagine the kitchen of the future. It probably has a lot of glass. Maybe a robot butler or two. The living room is full of egg-shaped furniture, the family owns a drone, the television is part of the wall, the thermostat calibrates the temperature of each room based on the body temperature of its occupants, using data gathered from their subdermal implants.
Around the corner, in the kitchen, our lovely future wife is making dinner. She always seems to be making dinner. Because no matter how far in the future we imagine, in the kitchen, it is always the 1950’s, it is always dinnertime, and it is always the wife’s job to make it. Today’s homes of the future are full of incredible ideas and gizmos, but while designers seem happy to extrapolate far beyond what we can do today when it comes to battery life or touch screens, they can’t seem to wrap their minds around any changes happening culturally. In a future kitchen full of incredible technology, why can we still not imagine anything more interesting than a woman making dinner alone?
It’s easy to ignore the showpiece kitchens-of-the-future of today, their smart appliances and interactive surfaces and fridge cams. It’s unlikely that a woman is going to see these promos and think “Well, guess it’s back to the kitchen for me!” But nobody wins when the visions of the future that we’re accepting, promoting, and sharing assumes that we’re all the same, that we all want the same things, and that those things incorporate the same breakdown of gender roles we’ve always had.
The 1953 KitchenAid “Television Kitchen”
From a purely pragmatic standpoint, while most of what’s on display in these hypothetical kitchens isn’t available for purchase, some pieces of them will be. It’s a little like a runway show: the average person will never see that designer outfit in stores, let alone on other humans. But pieces, elements, ideas of those outfits trickle down into our stores, arriving piecemeal, bit by bit. Particular aspects of these predictions are already headed our way: there’s already a smart fork, a set of chopsticks that claim to measure food freshness, and an app that can control your stove from your phone.
Writing off all these hypothetical kitchens as nonsense ignores how powerful the effect of their messaging can be.
Here’s another way to think about it all. Imagine your dream kitchen, something with every invention and bell and whistle you might want. What does it include? I’d guess it doesn’t include a wall of hard-to-clean glass surfaces, or a self-stirring pot, or an easy way for your mother-in-law to watch you cook. For me, it would include a self-cleaning function. Here’s how many times I saw anything about keeping the kitchen clean in all the future-home videos I’ve watched: Not once.
Futurism, both academically and within the world of tech, might have a reputation for irrelevance, and some of that is certainly deserved. But writing off all these hypothetical kitchens as nonsense ignores how powerful the effect of their messaging can be.
The future home is often presented as inhabited by idealized versions of ourselves. They are efficient and methodical, clean, quiet, and easily controlled. They’re robots. Humans aren’t like that, and no matter how much glass their homes are coated in, they’ll be messy — both literally and figuratively. The kitchens of the future will almost certainly be full of high-tech devices, but they’ll also be full of low-tech, funny, weird, idiosyncratic humans, and futurists would do well to remember that.