An exhibit in The Apartment Building showing the development of domestic technology 1865-1999.
Technology and mentality
One of the prerequisites of a modern mentality is the introduction of new technology in the home. Cast iron pipes and electrical wiring laid the foundation of a modernity that reached out of an intellectual dimension and into daily life.
The technical development in urban homes from ca. 1850 and 150 years on can be divided in to three stages:
In the first phase, many great changes happened simultaneously. They coincided with the extensive building activity in Kristiania (Oslo) after 1860. Iron pipes led water up the stories in the new brick built apartment buildings. The trap made the use of sinks and drains possible without the sewer stench coming in to the home. The paraffin lamp gave better light and made it possible to dispel darkness to a greater extent. At the same time the iron stove came into use, simplifying the preparation of food.
In the next period, from ca. 1900 to 1940, the development was more gradual. It influenced characterize the municipal and cooperative building of houses up to WW2. Gas and electricity competed for “hegemony”. Electricity won, and gas disappeared from Norwegian homes. The clean and invisible electricity was more than anything the admission ticket to modern daily life. From the 1920s the WC also became standard in modern urban apartment buildings.
The third stage is linked to the increase in prosperity in the post war period. This included, among other things, changes in the home, increased hygiene and new patterns of consumption. The 1960s became the era of the washing machine, the shower cubicle and the television set. A lot of the technology that gradually characterized the home was introduced much earlier. Nevertheless, several decades had to pass from the technology became available, until it was in general use, and in the end was indispensable.
Each generation barely had time to get used to the new technology that changed their everyday lives, before they experienced yet another step into the future. The consequences of modernization were new patterns of consumption and greater control of the processes of everyday life. This did not necessarily reduce the amount of housework, but led to less drudgery and increased ease of living.
We who live in the 2000s can easily be of the opinion that the technological changes after 1980 have been formidable. The consequences the digital revolution has had in our everyday lives has been modest compared to what our grandparents and great-grandparents went through. A child who grew up in the light of a paraffin lamp could as grownup move into its own home with electrical lighting and WC, and become a “TV-addict” before retirement!