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From household hell to high-tech heaven

Hate the housework? A century ago, you’d have had good reason. Cooking, cleaning and laundry were such grim toil they made the average housewife or servant (the two were more or less indistinguishable) yearn for a day working in a mill or a mine just for some light relief. Thanks to electricity and today’s smart technology, we’ve come a long, long way.

 

The washing

THEN

For the origins of the Monday blues, look no further than the weekly wash, traditionally undertaken at the start of the week. In the 19th century it’s not only arduous and time-consuming, but dangerous, too. The man of the house, at work down a mine or up a chimney, is most likely having a more comfortable day than his wife back home battling with fire, boiling water and heavy machinery just to get his vests clean. The lady of the house’s nightmare begins on a Sunday night, when she scrubs the family’s clothes and bedding on a rough washboard with soap made from highly caustic lye, which leaves her hands red and sore. Next day, she heaves the sodden laundry into in large cast iron vats of boiling water heated by wood or coal, and stirs them with a long, heavy pole. She lifts the clothes out of the vats with another pole, rinses them twice with water drawn from a well or the nearest pump and hangs them out to dry. Once that’s happening, she’ll be able to take a moment to nurse her calluses. Around 1908, her saviour arrives in the shape of a gigantic unit called ‘Thor.’ The first commercial electric washing machine is an unsightly beast with a giant rotating perforated barrel, but the average housewife of the time would gladly swap Thor for her husband.

 

NOW

Thor’s descendants, bristling with time and labour saving functionality and smart WiFi technology, like the Samsung FlexWashTM,  able to wash 2 separate loads at the same time, that I can control from a smartphone. Now that has enabled the weekly wash to look like this: tip washing into machine. Pour glass of wine. Relax.

Cleaning the floors

THEN

Pre-electricity in the 19th century, there’s no other way to clean your floors than to get up close and personal with every grubby centimetre. On your hands and knees, you’ll use stiff bristle brushes to tackle the grime, with abrasive sand or salt to lift out stubborn spots. Rugs are dragged outside, hung up and beaten – probably the only satisfying part of the whole process for a servant who can at least imagine the hapless carpet is her boss. Things improve slightly when a clever British chap called Hubert Cecil Booth invents the first domestic vacuum cleaner. The large, horse-drawn, petrol-driven unit is towed to the house on a horse drawn carriage and hoses are fed through the windows. Not ideal for those spontaneous spills.

 

NOW

It’s possible to clean your floors without even being in the same room, thanks to the might of modern tech. Robot helpers such as Samsung’s cute cousin of R2D2, the POWERbot, can be controlled from an app on your smart phone. Press a button, and this little fella gets on with the job, whizzing around independently, able to detect obstacles, identify surfaces and recognise hard-to-clean areas. These machines have real suction, so really are effective and the latest models are slimmer so can even get under your furniture. So your part of the task looks like this: press button. Pour glass of wine. Relax.

 

The cooking

THEN

In the 19th century home, with no electricity and no refrigeration, food destined for your dinner plate needs to arrive fresh. Which often means alive. After dispatching it and skinning or plucking, you’ll cook it on a wood-fired stove, with fetching and chopping the wood also on your daily to-do list. Pre-electricity, there’s no refrigeration, so planning’s tough and depends on what’s available or what you’ve managed to preserve by salting or pickling. Early refrigerators cause poisonings and illnesses with their experimental toxic gases until Sydney inventor Sir Edward Hallstrom changes the game with a kerosene-powered fridge called The Icy Ball (it didn’t look like a ball at all; he must have just liked the sound of it), and it’s all uphill from there.

 

NOW

The Icy Ball has evolved into a brainy 2017 fridge capable of managing your grocery shopping, recipe planning and even helping you cook. Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator uses WiFi connectivity to provide recipes that you can shop directly from a Woolies app, instructions for cooking them and streaming music while you do so. The whole process is so pleasant, your partner will be more than happy to take care of it, leaving your job looking like this: press button. Pour glass of wine. Relax.