What 1969 Thought the Office of the Future Looked Like

Wesley / Stringer / Getty Images
Wesley / Stringer / Getty Images / Wesley / Stringer / Getty Images

On April 16, 1969, the BBC show Tomorrow's World showed James Burke's vision for the office of the future. In the short film, Burke's office is computerized, "quiet, cool, very efficient." There's no telephone, but there is a "BJ-39" computer on wheels, ready to provide messages, distractions, and a form of FOMO. Also, Burke is the only man in the building, surrounded by women. Hmm.

Overall, it's a surprisingly prescient vision. Burke's office contains automated single-serving coffee, video messaging, computerized cameras, voice-to-text transcription, and a distracting executive desk toy. But more than the technology, Burke nails the anxiety of the lonely workplace. He demonstrates that the biggest obstacle to solo work is not technology, but a distracted inner monologue wondering what to work on next, what's going on outside, and what might be lying around to fiddle with. His attitude is spot-on for the modern urge to refresh social media and news, particularly for remote workers.

Tune in, and try to spot yourself in this. Be aware that the Burke segment only lasts until about 3:30 in the video below; the rest is an unrelated segment on Ray Davis Jr.'s neutrino research (he would eventually win a Nobel Prize for it!) and very early LED manufacturing.

If you enjoyed that, you'll love Burke's TV series Connections.