The Ghost of Future Past

Last week, my toaster oven caught fire once too often, so I dumped it.  After careful study of Consumer Reports and a walk through various stores, I finally went to Sears and bought a small, reasonably-priced item that had been rated fairly high by CR.  Just to be on the safe side, I got the extended warranty with it, which I almost never do (virtually every time I have, the store I got it from has gone out of business. When clerks try to sell me on it, I tell them I’m protecting their jobs by turning it down.)  When I got it home and set it up, the first thing I saw, embossed on the glass door, was “in case of fire, keep door closed and unplug.”

Ummmmmm, I thought..

I’m an old hand at small appliances. I’ve been keeping house for 46 years.  The first toaster oven I got lasted more than ten years and cost something like $7.95.  Only the last two I’ve purchased ever caught fire.  And now they not only provide instructions in the manual for what to do in case of fire, they print them on the front of the appliance itself.  Like now the purchaser should expect them to catch fire?  Yikes!!!

OTOH, we have an Amana microwave that is at least 29 years old and still works pretty well.  It’s built like a tank, and cost a fair amount when we bought it.  If  I could find a toaster oven built the same way, I’d buy it.

Somehow all of this calls to mind the future we were envisioning in the early 1960s, the “Kennedy ‘60s” as opposed to the “Vietnam ‘60s.”  I kept reading stuff with “Post Scarcity” in the title.  Some colleges were setting up departments of Leisure Studies.  We’d need them, we were told, because pretty soon, most of our jobs would be automated away.  And the result would be, not unemployment, but leisure.  We wouldn’t need to buy stuff so often, because it would all last forever (hence the connection with toaster ovens.)  People were setting up intentional communities, to improve the quality of life by sharing major purchases, activities, and domestic labor (and, sometimes, sex.)

I can do without the personal jetpacks and thevideophone (well, okay, we actually sort of have videophones.)  But I want my 15-hour work week and a toaster oven that lasts till I get tired of looking at it.  When do I get my old future back?

Red Emma

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