The great popularity of the VCR and the microwave oven have set the stage, in the typical American home, for the real symbol of the future--the microchip.
Once considered luxuries, the two items became fundamental breakthroughs in home automation, foreshadowing the housing design and use of the 21st Century home, destined to allow families to be in two places--at home and at work--at the same time.
"The microchip is about to be enshrined as the definitive household manager, security supervisor, energy manager and decision maker in domestic life," a recent Dallas conference of real estate and high-technology executives were told by an authority in realty research and a futurist in his own right, Sanford R. Goodkin.
Speaking at a meeting described as the first-of-its-kind on home automation and sponsored by Intellisys Corp. of Dallas, he said:
"The computerized home is no longer a science fiction concept. It was only a matter of time before advanced electronic technology would begin to act upon the real estate marketplace, and the time has arrived.
"We are about to witness the birth of a new industry. Computer-controlled environments, entertainment sources and daily household management systems will potentially enhance the way we live as dramatically as phone capability and electricity have.
"There are already standard-setting products entering the marketplace that will allow us to speak to our homes from the car or pay phone, link home and office computers, program the kitchen for a formal dinner for 12 and educate our children."
The microwave oven and the VCR have become household words and were developed as time-saving devices for busy working people who were "generating more money to spend and less time in which to spend it." The advent of so many single male- or single female-headed households and working couples has brought about a revolution in consumer demand for comfort automation, Goodkin said.
"Time sensitivity is not the only motivation for creating these products but will also become a major consideration in housing design. Creative builders who recognize this trend will be way ahead of the game," he said.
Goodkin, who is chairman of the La Jolla-based Goodkin Group, has been a prominent figure in the real estate industry's marketing and consulting fields and is currently observing his 30th anniversary in the business.
He cited the importance of the increasing presence of women in the workplace as another catalyst for the home automation field which he believes will become a $3-billion industry within a decade.
Today, the two-income family is the rule, not the exception, he said.
"Not only are we working to survive but we are insisting on more affluence, more convenience, and ultimately, more time. For most of us, working toward this goal and raising children at the same time, this is no easy task. We will begin moving our jobs into our homes in the future, to allow us to be in two places at once."
"By the early 1990s, more than 75% of adult women will be fully integrated into the work force. By 1995, half of them will be working from their homes, linked to offices by computer. But the connection will not be limited to the office. From the 'electronic cottage,' a working mother can not only maintain a career, but do the family shopping through catalog ordering, access university courses and library materials and provide her children with computer-assisted learning programs," he said.
During the conference, attendees saw a display of an"Intellihome," a model automated house. It included such items as a centrally controlled remote control system for the use of television, stereos and VCRs everywhere in the house and:
--A monitoring security system to indicate on televsion screens which doors and windows are open and where there is movement in the house.
--Audio and video systems capable of sending messages to other parts of the house (pressing a doorbell starts a video camera that shows who is outside).
--Jacuzzi, swimming pool and sprinkler monitoring systems that will allow time and temperature settings to be programmed from sources outside the home while acting as a trouble-shooting device to indicate water leaks, chemical balances and utility usage.
--A telephone answering system which serves as a message center for the home, activating heating, television and video and kitchen systems with just a phone call.
Goodkin has been involved in the production of more than a million housing units through his market surveys for various developments throughout the nation and abroad.
Thirty years ago, builders simply built homes that virtually sold themselves, he said.
"Products imitated each other, gas ranges were state-of-the-art and home buyers wanted only one thing--a cozy place to settle down and raise kids, with the man at work and the woman at home. There was really no such thing as market segmentation in those days. Everyone was part of a nuclear family and it looked like it would stay that way. It didn't.
"It all began to change in the early mid-'70s. Environmentalism changed the way builders looked at the land they developed.
"Traditional family structures were altered drastically and we were dealing with something called inflation. The sense of prosperity and security that was the hallmark of the '50s was history, and so was the affordable cottage with the white picket fence.
"We tried 'new towns,' master-planned communities, gigantic apartment complexes and condominiums. We moved to the suburbs and drove on the freeways to work. Our world got very crowded.
"Women woke up and went to work because they wanted more out of their lives. Eventually, women had to work because one income in the family wasn't enough. That probably did more to change the way houses are designed and the typical buyer profile than any other factor in the last several years."
In advance, he welcomes one and all to the automated home.