September 03, 2006

I hope the skirt is waterproof, too

On Future Now, Alex Pang posts a video of a 1960's Braniff Airlines ad that depicts the future of air travel, which was picked up by Boing Boing. The problem, Alex notes, is that

the commercial makes the classic mistake of positing vast technological changes, with no accompanying social changes. When you watch, notice that the pilots are all men, and the cabin crew is all female. This is something you see in lots of "home of the future" exhibits. Geoffrey Nunberg wrote about this so eloquently, it should be called the Nunberg Error.

I can't think of anything more satisfying than having an error named after me -- for one thing, errors tend to have much longer half-lives than theorems, laws, and conjectures. One small thing, though: Alex links to a paper of mine called "Farewell to the Information Age," where I discuss a picture from the 1950 number of Popular Mechanics that bears the caption "Because everything in her home is waterproof, the housewife of 2000 can do her daily cleaning with a hose." It's nice example of the way these representations tend to naturalize contingent social categories like "the housewife" even as they exaggerate the impact of technological innovations like synthetics. But that article doesn't contain the picture itself, which deserves reproduction here:

Note, among the other anachronistic touches, the ashtray on the table.

Posted by Geoff Nunberg at September 3, 2006 08:16 PM