The Weekend's Viewing: Home of the Future, Sun, Channel 4
Toughest Place to Be...a Train Driver, Sun, BBC2
In Home of the Future, Channel 4 has gutted a standard family house and filled it with the kind of technology that is "predicted to turn our lives into the stuff of sci-fi dreams".
Which sounds nightmarish, frankly, given how often sci-fi dreams run out of control. Take a look at that robotic lavatory, with its frankly impertinent wash-and-blow nozzle. Is that the kind of thing you could trust not to turn against you when you were at your most vulnerable? Personally, I think you'd never quite be able to fully unclench. Doubt isn't on offer here, though. The narration promised that the expensively made-over home of the Perera family offered a "blueprint for what our homes will one day be like", brushing aside the fact that blueprints are a notorious form of fiction. And it isn't that it's a problem predicting roughly what technology will do – the problem arises when you put it in the hands of human beings. We're the bug in the machine.
Humans are emotional for one thing. On moving back, most of the younger Pereras thought their futuristic new home was "cool". The boys liked the fully networked flat-screen telly and smart-phone-operable lighting system. Their daughter thought that the minimalist white interior was a change for the better. But Michelle, the mum, just sat on the sofa and burst into tears: "I thought there'd be a little bit of me left in here," she said miserably. No, Michelle, there's no place for carpeting and velvet upholstery in the future. And we're irrational too. Her husband, Anthony, turned out to be even flakier – literally and metaphorically. While Michelle and the rest of the family had no problem with the biometric door lock, Anthony couldn't get it to work at all, thanks to a strangely scurfy thumb that barely had a fingerprint. And his obsession with electricity conservation wasn't helping pave the way to a brave new world: he switched off the timed lights on the hydroponic Aerogarden and left his son, Joel, with barely enough charge to get to work in his electric car, because he didn't trust the system to switch it off when it was done. "He's an electric dictator, basically," grumbled Joel. "I'm ready to do some Middle Eastern shit, man".
The human factor, you see. Recalcitrant or confused or simply lazy. So you can spend as much time and money as you want developing a computerised family calendar to go on the fridge, but if you think teenagers are going to waste any of their precious time filling it in you're a cock-eyed dreamer. Teenagers can't enter dirty socks into an open laundry basket three inches away, so anything involving a keyboard is bound to be a total loss. Home of the Future might still have had some point to it, even so – despite the absurd naivety of the central premise – if it had been at all interested in real science. But apart from a brief element on home power-generation and a cursory section on research into autonomous vehicles, it seemed far more interested in dubious gizmos. Imagine one of those Innovations catalogues crossed with a reality soap and you may have some measure of the pointlessness of the exercise.
Toughest Place to Be...a Train Driver is a format that understands human nature and works with the grain of it, smuggling quite a lot of information about developing-world conditions into what looks like a hobbyist's travelogue. Last night, Simon swapped the controls of a Virgin Pendolino train for a Peruvian mine train. His instructors got all Swiss Tony on him. "The locomotive is like your wife, so you have to dominate her," said one instructor. "The locomotive, you have to treat her tenderly, like a woman you are trying to woo," said another. I'm not sure which he listened to, but between them Simon brought her home safely.
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