The 1990s, futurists say, will be a decade in which the technologies already in place will become highly sophisticated and refined: American families can expect to see a tremendous amount of computer and robotic technology in the home.
Based on 35 interviews with futurists and experts as diverse as automotive designers and sociologists, we offer a glimpse into what is likely to be in store for upscale Orange County families by the end of the next decade.
The following is a day in the life of the trend-setting Coopers, a fictitious Orange County family in the high-tech year of 1999. Meet the Coopers: John, 48; Jane, 36; and their 10-year-old son, Marty.
"John . . . John, it's time to wake up."
The woman's voice was but a whisper, a hint of seduction in the velvety purr.
But John Cooper, his face embedded in his pillow, did not stir in the dimly lighted bedroom. A minute later, the voice returned, a bit louder, a bit more urgent.
"John . . . come on, John, it's 7 o'clock. You'll be late for work
Still no response. Another minute passed before the voice returned. This time the purr had an attitude.
"OK, John, get up. Rise and shine, big boy. I'm not kidding."
John, wide awake now, recognized the voice: It was his wife Jane's. He turned to look at her, but she was still sound asleep and would not have to get up for another half-hour.
Sitting up in bed, John ran his hand through his tangled hair and chuckled: Jane had recorded the wake-up message into their Smart House system's morning sequence. John had grown accustomed to the regular, synthesized wake-up message, but he rather liked hearing Jane's voice coming out of the bedside speaker. She must have recorded it yesterday afternoon, he thought--before their fight last night.
They rarely fight--unlike the constant battles John and his ex-wife used to have--but when he and Jane do fight, it's always over the same old thing: money, or, more accurately, not having enough money.
It's not easy living in Orange County in 1999, especially when you're trying to maintain a standard of living like the upscale Coopers enjoy: One big family vacation trip a year, taking the high-speed bullet train from Anaheim to Las Vegas for the weekend, frequent dinners out and--when they don't feel like microwaving or going out to dinner--gourmet meals delivered to their door, a big trend in the '90s.
And while Jane spends far more money on clothes than John does, he has his own weakness: keeping up with all the latest electronic gadgetry that has become available in the '90s.
Then there's the monthly payment on their new home in Laguna Niguel, which the Coopers bought last year. John still lies awake some nights with a knot in his stomach thinking about making that monster payment.
But it is their dream home and at least they can afford to live in Orange County.
John's younger brother, Larry, and his family live out in one of the new high-density developments in Riverside County and would give anything to be able to afford to live in Orange County, where the median-priced house now tops $500,000. Larry spends more than four hours a day on the freeway commuting to and from his job in Huntington Beach.
As an American executive with a Japanese multinational corporation, John is making more money than ever, but it's never quite enough--not even with Jane now working steadily as a free-lance writer for several national magazines.
But John Cooper has other things on his mind this Friday morning.
Like many aging baby boomers in the so-called sandwich generation, he has been thinking about asking his 78-year-old mother to come live with them. He admires the way his mother, a widow since 1995, has maintained her independence, living alone in her Irvine condo. But she hasn't been in the best of health lately and her arthritis has cut down on her mobility.
He is also worried about Tiffany, his 15-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother in Boston but comes out to visit several times a year. During his last communication with his ex-wife by computer--far less volatile than trying to talk to her over the phone--she said that Tiffany is uncommunicative, her grades are slipping and she's hanging around a "tough" crowd at school. He would have to call and have a talk with Tiffany this weekend.
Then there's Marty. The boy is simply spending too much time in virtual reality. They bought him the virtual reality computer for his 10th birthday this year. Even John has to admit that it's a trip putting on the special goggles and suit and interacting in a three-dimensional simulated world of your own choosing. But virtual reality has become even more of an obsession than Nintendo was back in the '80s for many children. Although it's not interfering with Marty's schoolwork, the kid literally spends hours in virtual reality. He'd have to have a talk with Marty, too.