How household appliances changed society


Enrico Finzi, sociologist and president in charge of “astraricerche”, tells us the most interesting impacts that the diffusion of these products generated in the life of the Italian population
According to your researches, what impact had household appliances in the society’ s daily life?
To give an idea of the relevance of the phenomenon, you have just to think that at the end of the Eighties Federchimica commissioned us a survey, in which we asked to a representative sample of men and women what was the product that had more changed Italians’ life in the last century. The Association hypothesized three possible answers: antibiotics, which had saved the life of thousands of people; plastic, with which it dealt, which had revolutionized the consumptions of that age; and computer, which was then a rising phenomenon. None of this.
The washing machine, in fact, ranked first.
This survey is just an example, which demonstrates how the Italian people immediately understood the revolutionary nature of household appliances, which radically changed housewives’ life.

What are the appliances deemed more revolutionary by the population?
The washing machine remains the main product, because it has eliminated the great labour of hand washing, which often was done outside homes, in public washrooms, at the mercy of the weather inclemency. The advent of a machine that performed by itself this heavy task significantly changed women’s life in terms of alleviation of fatigue, more free time but also improvement of the physical appearance and of health.


The second household appliance by importance is the refrigerator, which allowed preserving foods and varying the diet, without the limits imposed by iceboxes. Refrigeration appliances brought an important transformation in Italians’ alimentary model.
Also the dishwasher, which never reached the success of the washing machine, being today present in not more than 55% of houses, contributed in alleviating housework and in improving the hygiene of dishes, pots and pans.
The increment of free time and the performance quality of household appliances were then perfectly perceived and assessed, to the extent that at the end of the Eighties they were still deeply rooted in the population’s mind.
Shifting from white to brown goods, what was in its turn the television impact?
The first broadcasts by RAI, which had then a single channel, started in 1954, when the penetration of TV sets was still very low.
The true revolution started with the program “Double or nothing” by Mike Bongiorno, which had an unbelievable resonance, launching a real popular fashion, which contributed in the rise of the TV set sales. Before then, the TV set was an object of collective consumption in public places, such as cafés, clubs or cinema halls.
In the Fifties and Sixties, cinema halls sold five times more tickets than today, just because the home media were not diffused, yet.
Benefitting from the success of “Double or nothing”, cinema halls were outfitted to project the broadcast on the cinema screen, thus attracting public who then stayed longer for the evening show.
The first impact of TV on society started then outside homes.
The effects produced by the television were of various types: first of all, they determined the first real cultural and linguistic unification of the Country. Broadcasts contributed in the alphabetization, as witnessed by the famous program “It is never too late”, where they delivered real lessons of Italian language.
We daresay that at the beginning the television was a giant mass school also because, wherever broadcasts were transmitted, it showed still unknown emancipation phenomena in certain geographical areas.
And what about the advertising influence on consumptions?
The television power was notable in this case, too. I happened to carry out a survey that revealed that the generations in the Fifties and Sixties learned to brush their teeth thanks to the toothpaste advertisement, which proves the initial education role played by TV also at hygienic-sanitary level. Naturally this process had already been started by the radio in the Twenties and Thirties, but the power of images summed to the sound has multiplied these effects in extraordinary way.
According to recent studies, on the contrary, in the last decades the television has produced negative repercussions on the evolution of the Country, from many points of view.

When did the household appliance become a status symbol?
When a phenomenon becomes a mass custom, an internal segmentation is created according to which privileged groups, healthier, more educated or more subjected to international phenomena, do not want a product like the one owned by others but one able to distinguish them. For that reason status symbols, which are based on various characteristics, arise.
The differentiation criteria in household appliances were several. In the Seventies there was, for instance, the design boom, to the extent that the appliances standing out for the most exclusive design were exhibited in famous museums.
Then the technological evolution came and determined the birth of new status symbols, thanks to extremely sophisticated appliances.
In recent years the ecologist trend is successfully spreading and orients consumers’ choice towards products with minor environmental impact.