Although science fiction generally does a decent job imagining the grand vistas of tomorrow, it's in more mundane areas where future design often falls down. Blogger John Powers recently tackled this question by imagining the future of kitchens.
Powers, author of the futurism blog Star Wars Modern, recently spent two posts examining the arc of development in kitchens and how they reflect our society as a whole. He examines the changing logistics of kitchens in response to the different people who were expected to be in there, from the maids of the 1920s to the housewives of the 1950s to the less strictly defined users of today.
Both posts are well worth reading in their entirety, but the most interesting part (unless you really, really like talking about the ergonomics of dish-washing) is probably the author's consideration of cannibalism in the future of eating. He notes an exchange between science fiction author Charles Stross and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman where Stross mentions an upcoming scene in one of his books where two socialites go out to a posh restaurant where they are each other's meal.
Powers notes that, although Stross's concept is intentionally provocative, it touches on a valid notion about the future of food and deserves context:
Stross'...idea – that the future may give us denatured cannibalism — deserves at least some serious consideration. After all, it isn't necessary to invoke premodern cannibalism (Man Corn the perfect side for Long Pork) –Stross was being provocative, but he was pointing to a real trend in modern society, our ever-widening tastes.
Traditional society are loaded with food taboos, and the most damning insult one tribe could hurl at another tribe was often a comment on their neighbor's willingness to eat something thought to be disgusting.
Less attention-grabbing but also intriguing is Powers's report on an ideal kitchen designed by Walter Gropius in the 1920s. Gropius was a German architect who founded the Bauhaus school, which strove to create a total work of art that was practical and rational while at the same time creative and emotionally fulfilling. Powers notes a nine-minute film loop that depicts Gropius's own house, with a kitchen that featured clear division of work areas, the latest gadgets, and designs meant to maximize the efficiency of movement.
Recalling a quote by Agatha Christie that she never expected to be too poor not to have a maid nor too rich to own a car, Powers notes a key fallacy in the thinking that underpinned Gropius's futuristic kitchen:
But all of Gropius' mistakes/innovations were made with a young maid in mind. Unlike Agatha Christie, Gropius did imagine a world of material plenty, but exactly like Christie he had not imagined that the maid would benefit so much that she would no longer want to work for him. I am sure he understood that the luxuries of his time (electric tea pots) would become common place, but that the common place (maids and even housewives) would become the extraordinary seems to have been harder to predict.
Whether we are headed for another great ergonomic leap forward, or refrigerators fully stocked with (legal) human meat, one thing is for certain — when it comes to predictions, it's the everyday things that are usually the hardest to get right.