R. A. Hettinga on 4 Jan 2001 11:55:52 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] No Place Like the Future - Microsoft House of Tomorrow

--- begin forwarded text

Date: Thu, 04 Jan 2001 03:09:50 -0600
To: believer@telepath.com
From: believer@telepath.com (by way of believer@telepath.com)
Subject: ip: No Place Like the Future - Microsoft House of Tomorrow
Cc: starla_pureheart@yahoo.com


  Daily | 01.02.01

No Place Like the Future

Andrew Zipern on Microsoft's House of Tomorrow

IF THE JETSONS expressed post-war America's subconscious desire to live in
an effortless, gadget-filled future, the Microsoft house is today's
Internet economy version. Filled with PCs, wireless gizmos, and digital
music players (all networked together) the Microsoft Home sets the stage
"for families to begin adopting technologies into their homes that simplify
daily tasks, enhance their entertainment experiences, and increase
communication at home and away." At least that's what the press release

The 8,000-square-foot loft is essentially a posh suburban estate that's
been relocated to a high floor of a Tribeca office building to showcase the
Microsoft vision of technological domesticity. Decorated in muted greens
and browns mixed with lots of airy white space and blonde wood, the house
is also a real testament to the staying power of the Martha Stewart-style
design aesthetic. But even if the space isn't jarring, the accompanying
stage play is. Actors portraying helpful, gizmo-happy family members
pretend to live in the Microsoft Home. "Hi! I'm the older brother," intones
a shoeless young actor clad in sweats. He introduces the enormous
interactive television set in the living room. (Questions about the
technical underpinnings of the unit prompt quick intervention from a real
Microsoft employee.) "Grandma" sits at the kitchen counter in front of an
Internet terminal, a perfectly white apron protecting her from non-existent
spills. A woman who looks thirty years old portrays a teenage daughter who
is totally into MP3s. Mom and dad stay sequestered in the home office and
master bedroom.

This bit of publicist theater feels like nothing so much as a weirdly
flawed version of those kitschy fifties industrial films that heralded the
"House of Tomorrow" -- magical, futuristic places where hausfraus in pastel
dresses prance around praising the inherent liberation of the robotic
kitchen. But where the older films perfectly captured the mix of consumer
desire and social anxiety that characterized the newly modern home,
Redmond's vision of the future gives the viewer a bad case of cognitive

Awash in Microsoft software, placidly gobbling up whatever their
gatekeepers send down the wireless pipe, the white bread family that
"lives" here seems to be caught between Father Knows Best complacency and
Starbucks-fueled work-a-holism. When "dad," an avuncular George Jetson with
salt-and-pepper hair, rises from his bedroom La-Z-Boy and removes his
half-glasses, you're not sure if he'll offer you the evening paper or a
PocketPC. Next door in the home office, "mom" spends half her time
e-mailing digital photos and the other half tweaking her portfolio with
Microsoft Money. So instead of presenting a vision of a nuclear family
brought closer together by technology, in the house that Windows built,
they're more isolated than ever. The dining room table has place settings
and napkin rings for ten, but nary a diner in sight; separated by hundreds
of square feet of prime downtown real estate, the family members never once
speak to each other directly.

Maybe the home's designers are just being arch? It's impossible to tell for
sure; presumably, Microsoft knows that it's not exactly politic to portray
its customers as agreeably empty-headed consumer robots, so that lends some
credence to the theory. But even for them, 8,000 square feet of residential
space is a lot of space for "arch." And in downtown Manhattan, it borders
on the pornographic. So maybe the whole thing is actually a piece of
installation art: "deconstructing" the "press event," "consumer culture,"
and the "Idea of the Future" simultaneously.

Or maybe it's all some kind of brilliantly ironic conceptual joke that only
Gates gets. His stock is taking a beating, but the House still wouldn't be
much more than a whoopee cushion scale expenditure for Bill. You picture
him sitting in his own private and presumably way-better-appointed
Tomorrowland under the hills of Seattle, watching the press troop through
the house on his wall-sized plasma display. Perhaps he chuckles a little.
Or perhaps not.

<mailto:zipern@nytimes.com>Andrew Zipern  is a producer for the New York
Times on the Web.

--- end forwarded text

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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