Walter Cronkite Demonstrates the Home of the Future in 1967

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Take heart. You could be controlling your television from a panel half the size of a pool table.

Sometimes, I take the remote control and the hardware and software it controls for granted. Increasingly complex television choices have overtaxed our television user interfaces. We ask too much of the humble remote, and so it disappoints for simple tasks like searching for a movie on cable.

But things could have been worse! Take a look at this video Matt Novak posted to YouTube. It anticipates the ability to dial up all kinds of entertainment at home from football in 3D to music delivered through orb-like speakers. It's all pretty ho-hum, actually, from today's perspective. 

What really stands out, actually, is the proposed control system. The console that Walter Cronkite operates here is probably eight feet long and looks like a panel from a nuclear power plant control system. 

No really, here's the control room from an American facility with a still I grafted on from the video:

a11_controls_full_inlay.jpg

This was a design sensibility that preceded the development of graphical user interfaces. Knobs abound, switches, too. And, of course, these elements would come packaged in a beige desk of a machine.

Much as I hate the modern remote and its limitations. This would undoubtedly be worse. And as a quick primer in UI change relative to expectations and the miniaturization of electronics, you could do worse than comparing this video with your setup at home. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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