A Small World

Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day

A Small World

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 24 illustrations Published: March 2008

Author: Davin Heckman

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies

Conceived in the 1960s, Walt Disney’s original plans for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) outlined a utopian laboratory for domestic technology, where families would live, work, and play in an integrated environment. Like many of his contemporaries, Disney imagined homes that would attend to their inhabitants’ every need, and he regarded the home as a site of unending technological progress. This fixation on “space-age” technology, with its promise of domestic bliss, marked an important mid-twentieth-century shift in understandings of the American home. In A Small World, Davin Heckman considers how domestic technologies that free people to enjoy leisure time in the home have come to be understood as necessary parts of everyday life.

Heckman’s narrative stretches from the early-twentieth-century introduction into the home of electric appliances and industrial time-management techniques, through the postwar advent of television and the space-age “house of tomorrow,” to the contemporary automated, networked “smart home.” He considers all these developments in relation to lifestyle and consumer narratives. Building on the tension between agency and control within the walls of homes designed to anticipate and fulfill desires, Heckman engages debates about lifestyle, posthumanism, and rights under the destabilizing influences of consumer technologies, and he considers the utopian and dystopian potential of new media forms. Heckman argues that the achievement of an environment completely attuned to its inhabitants’ specific wants and needs—what he calls the “Perfect Day”—institutionalizes everyday life as the ultimate consumer practice.


A Small World is an amazing accomplishment. Heckman has, aside from completing what will surely be hailed as a landmark study in the history of smart houses, manages to integrate a wide range of theories into a coherent and substantial narrative of the struggle of technology to integrate itself into the lives of consumers. This book has direct relevance beyond those studying automation and home technology, and is a vital read for anyone concerned with the incorporation of new media into contemporary culture.” — Mike DuBose, Reconstruction

“[An] engaging and well-meaning book. . . .” — Will Straw, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“By focusing on both the history of technology and the representation of technology in literature, film, and television, Heckman’s book effectively analyzes the cultural discourse surrounding the very concept of ‘smartness,’ and it offers a vehement critique of the incorporation of technology into everyday life. . . . Heckman’s book is extremely thoughtful and well-researched. . . .” — Anthony Enns, Leonardo Reviews

“Davin Heckman’s intriguing title A Small World: Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day immediately drew me in. His book gathers intensely detailed research into aspects of mid to late 20th-century American culture and overlaps that with references to futuristic visions of the home and lifestyles. Heckman illustrates the details of Smart Houses of last century, including the introduction of computers in the home, and then explores contemporary American society on many levels. This is a very satisfying read that gets better as it unfolds.” — Ann McLean, M/C Reviews

A Small World is an invigorating, elegant, and sardonic look at futurist fantasies of the spectacularization of everyday life. It makes a real contribution to the history of the American technological imagination.” — Scott Bukatman, author of Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20th Century

“This engaging, fast-paced book synthesizes a broad range of critical viewpoints—phenomenology, poststructuralism, media studies, and American studies—in order to illuminate the long trajectory of the ‘smart house,’ from the factory-based models of the industrial era to the wired dream-boxes of today. Providing a clear, concise path through a vast body of literature, Davin Heckman’s book will be useful for designers, architects, historians, and new media critics seeking to understand where technology is taking us.” — Ellen Lupton, Curator of Contemporary Design, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Davin Heckman is Assistant Professor of English at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: A Tale of Two Cities 1

1. "Home is Where the Heart Is": Scientific Management, Electricity, and the Early-Twentieth-Century American Home 18

2. "Here's Johnny": The Introduction of Information to the Space of the Home 38

3. The Emergence of the Smart House 95

4. The Dawn of the Perfect Day 140

Notes 171

Bibliography 193

Index 207
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4158-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4134-5
Publicity material