Westinghouse Total Electric Home (1959)

Theme 2: Meet The (Un)Predictables

Theme leader: Emilia Viaene, e.m.j.j.b.viaene@tue.nl

Header image: Westinghouse Total Electric Home (1959)


The smart home sector has made great promises in the pursuit of comfort, convenience, and control for decades now (Aldrich, 2003). Even industries’ future visions of long days past had the same idea, for instance with the fifties’ RCA Whirlpool Miracle Kitchen and the Westinghouse Total Electric House (video links listed below). Although we do not entirely live in such visions of the future –which is now the present, we are surrounded by similar technologies sometimes more often than we realize. Think for instance of the popularity of robot vacuums, smart doorbells, smart home cameras, smart fridges, smart speakers, smart lighting, smart tv’s, smartphones… Additionally, one thing those things have in common, is their potential for data collection. The possibilities with this data hold promises to shift the smart home into a learning smart home. This also ties to the more recent promise to cater to sustainability ambitions in the home by providing automated solutions and informing households of their resource consumption (Strengers, 2023).

These promises however, are usually catered to personas with lifestyles and applications that have been idealized in many ways. In this light, Strengers paints a picture of the Resource Man and the Smart Wife (2023). Resource Man being a smart home inhabitant that is a “rational and efficient micro energy manager, who optimizes energy and water demand with data and automation” but with a life that is often “devoid of life”, with along his side the Smart Wife as a form of “feminized AI and robots […], designed and marketed to perform a variety of domestic, care, and intimate functions (Strengers, 2023). In many ways, the domestic life of the Resource Man would be characterized by predictability and routine. However, in reality, everyday domestic life is much more rich and unpredictable as envisioned in the industries’ smart home visions. Real life encounters many “crises of routine” (Reckwitz, 2002), these are unexpected situations that are non-routine and pose challenges for learning technologies.


Meet the Predictables, a family of four with a dog. They live in the year 2038 and they reside in a learning smart home. To the outside world, they project everyday domestic lives that are characterized by routine. Seemingly, their home knows everything about those routines, and caters to this knowledge to provide the ultimate comfort, convenience and control for its inhabitants.

If we didn’t know any better, the Predictables lead a perfectly organized life. There’s just one thing that puzzles the Predictables to no end. And that thing is their across neighbors, the Unpredictables. The only thing the Predictables and the Unpredictables seem to have in common is their household composition, in every other way the Unpredictables seem to be the polar opposites of the Predictables. The Unpredictables’ lives are characterized by crises of routine. The technologies in the Unpredictables’ home cannot possibly know everything about the their (sometimes lack of) routines. Luckily, their home knows how to deal with the frictions the crises of routine pose for catering to the Unpredictables’ lives.

You would assume that the Predictables lead a more organized, tech-friendly, and thus ultimately more sustainable household, right? Well, you would assume wrong! In reality, the resource consumption of the Predictables is almost double that of the Unpredictables. How is that possible, you ask? Well for starters, perhaps the Predictables might not be so predictable after all, unbeknownst to the home they live in. To find out more, let’s take a peek through the cracks of the Predictables’ routines, in comparison to the Unpredictables’ crises of routine.

Research Challenge

With this topic, your challenge is to zoom in on an everyday practice in the lives of the Predictables in the year 2038, contrasted to the same practice in the lives of the Unpredictables. Both of these practices involve some form of technology that uses data to inform its actions and possibilities. The Predictables’ experience will likely be heavily inspired by mainstream discourse about what future life would be like in a learning smart home. A focus here should be on how this future vision poses challenges when faced with the cracks in the Predictables’ predictability and efficiency. The Unpredictables’ home, then, will pose an opportunity for you to be creative in thinking of ways in which the practice (characterized by crises of routine) can be better adjusted to the households’ rich and unpredictable lives ánd their sustainability goals.

Examples of practices you could zoom in on are cooking, cleaning, morning routines, entertainment, pet care, etc. This practice can be materialized in the form of artefacts that embody the households’ technologies, a performance, an interactive experience, a set of scenario’s, or any other form that shapes the lived experiences of both households. The deployment of your practice should enable a critical reflection on how either experiences may influence everyday domestic life.

Must read/watch



  • Chatting, D. (2023) Automated Indifference. interactions 30, 2 (March – April 2023), 22–26. https://doi.org/10.1145/3580299
  • Jensen, R.H., Strengers, Y., Raptis, D., Nicholls, L., Kjeldskov, J., and Skov, M.B. (2018) Exploring Hygge as a desirable design vision for the sustainable smart home. Proc. of the 2018 Designing Interactive Systems Conference. ACM, New York, 355–360. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/3196709.3196804
  • Strengers, Y. (2023) Resource Man and the Smart Wife: Implications for Sustainability in the Home. interactions 30, 2 (March – April 2023), 36–40. https://doi.org/10.1145/3582566
  • Viaene E, Kuijer L and Funk M (2021) Learning Systems versus Future Everyday Domestic Life: A Designer’s Interpretation of Social Practice Imaginaries. Front. Artif. Intell. 4:707562. https://doi.org/10.3389/frai.2021.707562