Is the pantechnicon a museum piece?

This week I am following with half an eye the goings-on at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Twitter hashtag #WEF).

I find particularly interesting the futurist ideas that are coming out of the event. There are fascinating tweets on the feeds of @AdamBates_KPMG, @SteveForbesCEO, @Davos, @lheron and of course the unmissable @Competia about various predictions. There are brilliant debates about the distance we travel to work, shared vehicles, resource use, the obligatory 3D printing and some really cool analyses of the differences between growth prospects of the different parts of the world.

Some of the things I find most interesting are the little tidbits that drop out, rather than the big concepts such as the fact that the median age of the world’s population is now 27½ and that the age is trending up in all regions out to 2100, with exception of Europe which peaks in 2040 and falls away as the baby boomers die. (Consider the implications of that one for a minute…)

One little throwaway was the prediction that babies born now are unlikely to ever own a wallet. It’s a small fact, but think about what that is really saying. It is suggesting that in as little as a decade and a bit, we wont need physical ID, money, non-fiat payment cards, coffee reward cards, receipts, BHA membership card, spare passport photos, business cards, rail ticket stubs… (these are just some of the things in my wallet today.)

So this rekindled another thought I had recently about how much useless physical crap we all cart about through our lives. I moved house this month and realised as I was carrying the second vehicle load of boxes up the stairs that much of the back-breaking shit just wont figure in the house-moves of future generations.

Easy to lose of course are the heavy books, CDs and DVDs, which are already disappearing in favour of digital media, which in turn is moving to the cloud from physical local storage, making the home footprint near nil.

A lot of the larger items are already ‘losing weight’. Think of a CRT TV from ten years ago against a slim LCD, or the big fancy separates hi-fi system we had a decade ago compared to the skinny iPod dock we all now have. We used to have games and toys, but invariably after the age of toddler now such things are digitised. Trivial Pursuit is no longer a 2 kilo box, but  question-set we access via our mobile device and view on the TV.

In time maybe even things like pots and pans will disappear as we all get food replicators and along with them will go the fridge, oven and hob!

So what’s left to make the house move still a chore?

I guess the things that can’t shrink are those linked to the size of our bodies. The big furniture items and maybe clothes… but can we lose them too? On The Bottom Line podcast recently, I heard Simon Woodroffe talking about his new project, Yo! Home!, which is a compact multifunctional living space idea where much of the furniture is built-in (and designed to be flexible). So maybe we can lose much of the furniture. I suspect that 3D printing will make many small items such as clothes impractical to store for long. Indeed, whilst it is only a bikini, the first boutique printed clothes are already available. Household decorations are likely to go the same way, except for maybe the most personal trinkets.

So what’s left? Will a house move in future be a rucksack full of personal belongings that we take to the new multifunctional pad, where our subcutaneous RFID chip with our personal ID makes available our film, book and music libraries, where a 3D printer replicates our wardrobe on a print-to-wear basis and our meal cooked to our taste is already steaming in the food replicator?

Let’s extrapolate this then. Can we can rock up to a new space each night in a new city and instantly access all the home comforts?

Never mind asking whether the pantechnicon of today’s house-move is already a museum piece, but if all the above is true, how long then until the concept of home itself is obsolete? Maybe Paul Young was right; except that of course we don’t wear hats anymore…