Teaching FS: House of the Future

This is the kick-off to a new and improved section of the existing blog, the “Teaching STS” section, which is just been transformed to the “Teaching STS/FS” section, and each new and old post in this section will be differentiated with a “Teaching STS” or “Teaching FS” in the title to help sort things out.

This image above comes from “plan59” and was found through a great blog, “paleofuture” (similar cool stuff on pintrest too). In the past, we’ve used this image, which is closer to the year 1900 than it is to present day, as a teaching tool.

The idea is to open-up discussion with students.

First, we ask — “what did McNabb get right and what did he get wrong in his 41 year prediction into the future?” The image itself helps to generate dialog, as it can be used directly during discussion to elucidate or argument points of contention. In Futures Studies, images of the future, as discussed widely but, in particular, in Wendell Bell’s Foundations of Futures Studies, have been used to project, predict, and dialog about possible, plausible, and probable futures. Depictions, a special kind of prediction, are typical of so much planning for the future, and students are then challenged to,

Second, we ask them — “where are other visions of the future now?” Students usually come back with some variation on 1984 or Star Trek (especially TNG, my favorite).

Then, Third, we ask the students about Skype and FaceTime, the purpose being: “how did McNabb get video calling correct, but botch the date so badly?” (by 3 years, in this, case — what does it mean to be wrong about the timing, if 3 years can be considered “wrong” in the first place?)

Then, finally or Forth, we ask: “Is there a diet pill in the future keeping everyone’s weight down and what about that guy smoking above children — is he smoking or vapping or what?” What would need to be the case for this to be a healthy world we are living in? (I land my helicopter care, with three women at home, my designer dog, someone is preparing a meal, another is doing ultrasonic laundry, etc. … what are we to make of this?)

8 thoughts on “Teaching FS: House of the Future

  1. The whole thing is great — perhaps, even now — and it was specifically chapter 7 where my jaw dropped, cane unhinged, and fell to the floor. Changed my whole perspective about telling the history of a technology by also elucidating what did not or failed to happen AND about how to depict non-events (i.e., that which is significant because it did not take place) and how hard it was for sociologists to explain why what didn’t happen didn’t happen.


  2. Pingback: Happy New Year from ISO! | Installing (Social) Order

  3. Find it? That book changed my perspective as a graduate student working under Tom Gieryn. If you can’t find a copy, I’ll try to find one. The chapters on union breaking through automation are, admittedly, naive by today’s standards, but were truly instructive to a student really trying to ‘get’ the ‘design turn’ in STS and beyond. If only he had more on methodology, this would be a top 5 STS ‘return to’ title.


  4. On man, I just think Dave Noble’s 1984(?) book, Forces of Production — love seeing demonstrated the “it could have been another way — and this is that other way.’


  5. thanks for sharing all this, for me the best historical accounts manage to give the reader a sense (almost visceral) of how things might well have gone another way and along these lines how does one avoid a kind of technodeterminism or tech-triumphalism or the like , how to get across how damn hard engineering is (see for example the decades of basically stalled AI before recent breakthroughs in machine ‘learning’ and how they seem likewise stuck again) and how many failures there are and or how hard the road from prototypes to products to successful (widely adopted, etc) products?


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