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Media Room of the Future (1979)

This media room of the future, featured in the 1979 book The Computer Age: A Twenty-Year View, is strikingly similar to the living room of the future we looked at almost two years ago.

Media Room. Homes of the future will have rooms akin to this illustration into which a user can immerse all sensory apparatuses. This particular application is a "Spatial Data Management System," with a fictitious country called Dataland displayed to the user's right. In front appears an item in one particular neighborhood of Dataland. In this example this item is a virtual television for which the user can make animation, with which the user can look at old movies, or through which the user accesses the networks. The user's controls are touch- and pressure-sensitive instrumentation in the arms of an Eames chair.

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Reader Comments (3)

While the individual details of the room aren't so accurate to the present, the overall mentality of the setup is strikingly accurate to what often takes place with new technological developments. The "virtual TV" on the man's computer screen that he can use to watch old movies and make animations in really captures the tendency of ours to remain attached to the aesthetics and mode of operation of previously-existing technology and infrastructure, out of either nostalgia or habit, even when this tendency results in lower efficiency. The rotary dial app for the iPhone is an example of this, as well as the fact that the majority of cell phones come with an old-fashioned bell ringing sound effect when in reality they could sound like anything. It is totally believable to me that a media player program could have a plugin that would play video back in a midcentury TV frame with analog-looking effects, simply for the nostalgia factor (and I would probably download it).

May 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Western

That's Bill Donaldson there sitting in what we called Captain Kirk's chair as part of the Spatial Data Management Project (SDMS) project. He was one of the key researchers along with others from Nicholas Negroponte's Architecture Machine Group. The large screen TV was a GE eidiphor which fired electrons at an oil film and produced an image on that huge, heavy ground glass screen. (They had to take a piece of the building out so the crane could deliver it.) The chair had gesture ready touchpads on each are and a joystick or two. The $4,000 studio monitor on his right is showing an overview of "data land" which had icons such as televisions, maps, cash registers and so on. You could navigate with the joystick and zoom in and out of the applications. It all seems so obvious now, but that was the 70s. The left monitor provide a touch screen interface, so if you zoomed into the calculator, you could press the keys there. If you zoomed in to the telephone, you could dial a number or review your list of calls and play them back. I think that actually worked using a dial out modem. There was even some LANDSAT data of Boston so you could zoom in to a satellite map. (This was before Dan Quayle put satellite images behind a pay wall.) The room also had quadriphonic sound with four distinct channels, so you could hear stuff as you moved around data land and know which way to go by hearing where the sound was. So, there was a cash register that ka-chinged, sound from the television, a dial tone from the phone and even a voice whispering "The Defense Advanced Projects Agency" behind a DARPA icon that led to a report on the project. DARPA was the sponsor. I was the lead systems programmer. This all ran under an advanced version of the Magic operating system and was programmed in PL/I and assembler language.

It was quite a demo. Later demos included a Polhemus spatial positioning and pointing device, speech synthesis and voice recognition, but here you had it: large screen television, multiple monitors, sound location, touch screens, panning and zooming, gesture recognition, satellite mapping, computer telephony, anti-aliased, kerned text and a host of other technologies all working before there was a PC on anyone's desk.

P.S. That's a real Eames chair. It took some doing for Negroponte to get MIT purchasing to sign off on that.

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