BBC FOUR FIRES UP A TIME MACHINE… Overview Electric Dreams is a new three-part series, produced in association with The Open University, designed to give viewers a unique insight into how the technological revolution of the last 40 years has transformed all our lives. The Sullivan-Barnes family have bravely agreed to be transported back to 1970 – the dawn of the digital age – and then fast-forwarded at the rate of a day per year through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
At the beginning of the first episode, they are stripped of all the mod cons that they rely so heavily on in their daily lives – so it’s goodbye to their three games consoles, three DVD players, five mobile phones, six televisions and seven computers. Their family home is also “renovated” to reflect the trends and tastes of a typical 1970s family. Cue the brown wallpaper and dubious fashion.
The house is regularly modernised throughout the series and updated with the latest technological advances to reflect the changing times as the family hurtle towards the year 2000. How will they cope without colour television, computer games and mobile phones? And how will the experiences of the children compare with that of the parents who will be living through the revolution for the second time?
Electric Dreams is produced by Wall to Wall and was commissioned jointly by the Open University and the BBC. To find out more visit bbc.co.uk/electricdreams and explore 40 years of innovation with The Open University’s technology make-over interactive at open2.net/electric dreams.
The Family Adam Barnes (43)
Georgie Sullivan (41)
Hamish Sullivan (13)
Ellie Sullivan (12)
Steff Barnes (12)
Jude Sullivan-Barnes (2)
The Sullivan-Barneses are a busy, modern ‘blended’ family living in Reading. Their lives are informed by the latest technology for both work and leisure.
Dad Adam is a chartered accountant. He’s a huge technology enthusiast and wants to use this opportunity to show the kids the wonder of his childhood gadgets. Mum Georgie is Director of Performance at an NHS hospital. She is less interested in technology in the home than her husband. She spent the majority of her youth outside socialising and she wants to show her children that it is possible to be entertained without countless screens in the home. Both parents are hoping that the project will teach them lessons in how they can come together as a family.
The children have a charming, questioning attitude to the ‘70s, ‘80s and the ‘90s. Knowing that technology was more cumbersome and less user-friendly in the past though, they think it will be hard to give up their computers and phones.
The family have seven computers and six TVs between them. Adam’s computer and state-of-the-art TV are his pride and joy, whereas Georgie claims she is the least interested in technology. She still succumbs to a daily dose of the Internet though, and of course there’s the mobile phone, the microwave, the dishwasher and the television. The children have access to a whole range of technologies, and find it hard to imagine life without them.
The Tech Team The tech team will be guiding the family through the technological revolution, making sure they are equipped with all the right mod cons at the right time. They will be on hand to help whenever the family need advice – or simply when the VHS machine breaks on video night.
The tech team experts are: Gia Milinovich, a writer and presenter specialising in computer technology and new media; Dr Ben Highmore, a sociologist whose keen interest in the culture of everyday life has led him to write a book on the history of the British house; and Tom Wrigglesworth, a self-confessed gadget geek who knows all that’s worth knowing about the evolution of technology in the home.
Episode 1: The 1970s The Sullivan-Barnes family begin their journey through time in 1970, progressing through the decade of disco and flares at the rate of a year per day. The house has been transformed into a 1970s domestic haven and the family are heading for ten days without multiple television sets, games consoles, computers, a dishwasher, a microwave and a tumble drier.
Georgie hopes that a spell in the 1970s will show the kids a simpler low-tech life and that they’ll all spend more time together as a family. She soon realises that although her family do spend more quality time together, it comes at a price – without the labour-saving gadgetry she’s used to, Georgie spends an inordinate amount of time on household chores. Adam’s bubble of nostalgia quickly bursts when he realises that his ‘70s home and car don’t meet his modern safety standards. As the kids get used to tech-free bedrooms they embrace a new-found freedom outside the home, but ‘70s life takes its toll and Hamish in particular becomes bored without his modern electronic distractions.
By modern standards the 1970s is a technological wilderness and the family are presented with many challenges – they endure a spell without central heating, they question whether a Teasmade is a luxury at all, and curse the unreliability of the new colour television when it arrives late in the decade. It’s not all bad though – the arrival of chopper bikes and Pong proves popular and music expert David Quantick shows them how to make mix tapes for the end-of-decade slide show.
Episode 2: The 1980s The journey continues for the Sullivan-Barnes family in 1980 with an onslaught of electronics. This is the decade when computers began to appear in the average home – along with microwave ovens, video recorders and compact discs. Technology began to shrink in size, and focus on leisure and entertainment. But prices were still high, and both reliability and ease of use were a long way from the standards we expect today.
Dad Adam has fond memories of a decade which was formative for him. He remembers how awestruck he was by technology at the time, but is forced to admit the reality doesn’t live up to his nostalgia. Mum Georgie is unimpressed by much of the equipment which arrives in the ‘80s – she feels it’s generally too time-consuming to bother with. For the children, none of whom was even born in the 1980s, the prehistoric PCs are baffling and electronic gadgets are thoroughly underwhelming.
The family face a number of entertaining challenges in this episode: they must cook a full roast dinner in a microwave oven, as consumers in 1980 were encouraged to do; they go shopping for their first home computer and are faced with a bamboozling range of incompatible models to choose from; and the kids make their pop video debut with one of the first camcorders. Meanwhile Adam takes a spin in the most famous technological flop of the decade – the Sinclair C5 – and the family receive a surprise visit from one of the most iconic bands of the decade.
Episode 3: The 1990s The end of the millennium looms large in the final episode of the series. It’s a decade when the communication revolution hits the British home and there are ever-increasing opportunities for home entertainment. After the garish décor of the ‘80s, the house’s 1990s, minimalist makeover is welcome to all members of the family.
Adam is looking forward to the technology the ‘90s will bring – he’s anticipating much more home entertainment, mobile communications and user-friendly computers. Georgie worries about the effect that all this technology will have on her family, who have up until now been spending more time together without modern technology to distract them. The older children were born in the mid-90s so it’s a decade that holds only the vaguest of memories for them.
Expanding global economies, cheap imports and ever-evolving electronic goods make life in the ‘90s a whirlwind of technological progress and the family are inundated with gadgets and upgrades that infiltrate every area of their life – they attempt to stay in touch using pagers and go on a day trip to Paris kitted out with a brick-sized mobile phone and a rudimentary digital camera. The family celebrate the end of their experience of three decades of technological progress with a Millennium Party, but as they count down to the year 2000 how has it changed them and will their experience have an impact on their modern way of life?