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Information Technologies in the Home WALTER S. BAER INTRODUCTION Despite the frenetic life-styles of 1984 America, most of us spend more time at home than anywhere else. We sleep, eat, and take care of our personal needs at home. We cook, clean, and do other household chores, take care of children, pay bills, prepare taxes, and sometimes shop from home. Some of us earn part or all of our living at home. We entertain, talk on the telephone, play games, read, watch television, and otherwise relax at home. These home activities are all affected by the electronic technologies we have developed for communications, information gathering, and entertainment. Which technologies we use in the home and how we apply them to home activities are the topics of this paper. The television set and the telephone are today the most important electronic infonnation technologies in the home. They represent two broad categories of home information technologies that are worth distinguishing: (1) stand-alone, or one-way, receiving units, and (2) communicating, or networked, units. Besides television receivers, the first group includes radios, audio systems, microprocessors in appli- ances, videocassette recorders (VCRs) and players, videodisk players, videogames, cable TV converters, satellite TV receivers, hand calcu- lators, and stand-alone personal computers (PCs). The second category includes telephone peripheral equipment such as answering machines and automatic dialers, interactive cable TV terminals, and PCs with 123
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124 WALTER S. BAER two-way communications capabilities. The number and percentage of U.S. households with these technologies are shown in Table 1. Stand-alone units generally show higher penetrations and faster growth than those linked to networks, for obvious technical, economic, and political reasons. It is easier to design, make, and sell new products that can be taken home and used independently than equipment that must interact compatibly with a network or with units in other locations. Moreover, networks are regulated by federal, state, or local govern- ments, while stand-alone technologies generally are not. Consequently, the time needed for successful commercial introduction of a new stand- alone technology is measured in years, while new network technologies may require a decade or more for regulatory as well as consumer acceptance. Nevertheless, the trend Is toward interconnecting traditionally stand- alone units within the home and then linking them through communi- cations networks to the outside world. Personal computers provide a good illustration. In 1983 only 7 percent of home computers sold were equipped with modems for external communications (Yankee Group, 19841. Only about 15 percent of the "high end" and "medium" PCs sold in 1983 PCs with memories of 64K and more had modems. These machines, however, are rapidly displacing "low end" units in current sales (Table 2~. By 1988 more than half of the home computers sold should have communications capability, allowing them to exchange messages with other PCs and to interact with external infonnation services. The trend toward networked PCs in the home thus seems TABLE 1 Infonnation Technologies in the Home, 1983 . _ . _ . . Number of Households With Equipment Percentage of U.S. (millions) Households Item Telephone TV receiver Color TV Cable TV Tw~way cable TV Satellite TV receiver V-ideorecorder/player Videogame Home computer With telephone hookup or modem 83 84 75 33 0.3 0.4 21 0.4 98 99 89 39 <1 11 25 9 SOURCE: A. C. Nielsen Company, Paul Kagan Associates, The Yankee Group, AT&T.
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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE HOME TABLE 2 U.s. Computer Sales to the Home (in thousands) . _ . 125 . _ _ Estimated 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 High end 116 145 141 460 1,470 Medium 3 155 180 1,080 2,440 Low end 25 60 1.940 3,545 685 - Total units 144 360 2,261 5,085 4,595 Installed base 144 504 2,765 7,850 12,446 . _ SOURCE: The Yankee Group. 1984. Yankeevision. Boston, Mass. May:35-37. Repnuted with . . permlsslon. TABLE 3 Perceived Uses for Computers in the Home, 1983 _ . _ Percentage of Those Interested in Acquiring a Computer Percentage of Actual Purchasers Home budgeting/management 53 27 Education/learmog 39 41 Entertainment/games 21 41 Run business from home 19 Programming 12 35 Do once work at home 10 8 Word processing/wnting 8 10 Accessing information 7 4 Record keeping/cataloging 6 5 Home banking 5 2 Self improvement 4 2 All others 7 14 Don't know/none 9 4 SOURCE: The Yankee Group. 1984. Yankeevision. Boston, Mass. May:35-37. Repnoted with . . permlsslon. well under way. Companies such as IBM, AT&T, CBS, and Times Mirror are all betting that networks of home PCs will present large and attractive markets by the end of this decade. How will individuals and families use their home computers? Table 3 shows the results of a recent survey of perceived applications. Home computer purchases through 1983 were predominantly `'low end" machines used primarily for games and for reaming about computers themselves. Purchasers are now insisting that PCs also be useful for word processing, home management, and other more sophisticated and serious applications. As a result, the number of home PCs sold in 1984 may fall below the 1983 level, but the mix has shifted dramatically
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126 WALTER S. BEER toward more expensive and capable devices including larger memories, disk drives, printers, and modems. Recent studies show growing consumer interest in and acceptance of information technologies for the home (Yankelovich, Skelly, and White, 1984~. These trends in the 1980s differ markedly from the antitechnology, away-from-home attitudes of the late 1960s and 1970s. Demographics are changing as well, with significant trends towards smaller households and more working adults per household. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of all married women now work outside the home, up from about 30 percent in 1960. Time is thus at a premium for more Americans, and household activities must change accordingly. For middle-class U.S. households, time budget choices are at least as critical as income is in determining the purchase and use of information technologies. In addition, more Americans seek individual, customized life-styles. We want more flexibility in our working hours and more choices among the foods we eat, the trips we plan, the magazines we read, and the television programs we watch. A central theme of this paper is that information technologies facilitate these choices but do not themselves determine them. Rather, how individuals choose to spend their time largely determines the information technologies they acquire and use. The sections that follow discuss four significant uses of time at home- working at home, doing chores at home, learning at home, and relaxing at home and the ways in which information technologies support these activities. Some limits on the paper's scope and intent deserve mention. It is not intended as a technological forecast, but is rather a discussion of how information technologies are being used in the home, of current trends, and of some expected developments. Technologies that will be used in the home in the next decade have already been invented and are in various stages of development, field testing, or use in business, government, and other nonresidential environments. The paper deals with developments in the United States and assumes a business-as-usual scenario both internationally and domestically. This implies that individuals and families will continue to purchase information products and services in commercial markets. There is little discussion of equity issues or possible government programs such as subsidies for cable television and home computers. Finally, the paper focuses on technologies for electronic communi- cations, information distribution, and entertainment in the home. It largely neglects the interesting developments under way in the print media. It is the authorts strong contention that the new electronic
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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE lIOME 127 media will change the old without supplanting them, just as television has changed radio and newspapers without destroying the viability of either. Newspapers, magazines, books, and other forms of print media will remain viable for the foreseeable future, but ongoing changes In technology, demographics, and life-style all favor the growth of electronic information technologies in the home. WORKING AT HOME Personal computers provide greater opportunities to earn a living at home, especially for self-employed professionals and independent contractors such as computer programmers, consultants, wnters, typists, and accountants. Individuals in these occupations generally work independently, control their own work pace, and have measurable output. Many of them could work at home without a computer, of course, but the computer's word processing, financial modeling, and record-keeping capabilities enhance their productivity. The "expert system'' software now emerging from R&D will further support professionals' work at home (Hayes-Roth, 1984~. The use of space at home need not change dramatically to support such professional work. If a separate office or study is not available, most people can place a computer and related equipment in their bedrooms. The bedroom can be used for work during nonsleeping hours, with reasonable privacy and relatively little interference with other home activities. Telework Many employees in white-collar occupations could work at home with communications networks linking their personal computers to company data bases and to co-workers. As one illustration, a 1976 study found that the insurance industry could decentralize much of its underwriting and administrative operations by using workers at home or at dispersed sites near home (Nilles et al., 1976~. Besides saving commuting costs, "telework'' opens up employment opportunities to those who find it difficult to travel to work, such as parents with child care responsibilities and the physically handicapped (Olson, 1983~. Salespeople could conduct more work at home if they had ready access to customer records, as well as means to send in their orders electronically. Software programs for personal computers are available to facilitate such order entry processes. Mobile telephones using cellular radio technology also help salespeople work more effectively outside the office.
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128 WALTER S. BARR Despite these technical advances, predictions from the 1970s and early 1980s of significant shifts to working at home have not come to pass (Harkness, 1977; Nilles et al., 1976; Toffler, 1980; Williams, 19821.* Nilles now estimates that "today there are between 20,000 and 100,000 telecommuters of all sorts in the IJ.S." (Krier, 1984~. Some forecasts simply extrapolated too far from the 1973-1974 energy crisis and concluded that skyrocketing gasoline prices would dramatically reduce commuting. Others were based on an either-or fallacy that employees would fully substitute working at home for working at an office. This is clearly not correct. Most individuals want to spend a good part of their working time among colleagues. They like the change of scene, the work-related interactions, the socializing, and even the distractions of an office environment. However, many employees would like the freedom to work at home part of the time. Just as face-to-face contacts at the office enhance job performance, so, too, may the ability to concentrate at home, free from meetings, colleagues' visits, and business telephone calls. This paper, for example, was written largely at home, where I can find more uninterrupted time than at my office. Other employees prefer the added flexibility that part-time work at home offers for child care or other activities. Part-time work at home illustrates the customized life-styles sought by so many Amencans in the 1980s. The reporters at the Los Angeles Times provide an interesting example of how information technologies open new opportunities for part-time work at home. In 1982, the Times installed a sophisticated "front end" computer system for the editorial staff. More than 550 microcomputer terminals are linked to 21 computers in Washington, D.C., and three Southern California locations. In addition to typing and editing stories, each reporter can maintain his or her own electronic files, as well as send and receive electronic messages through the system. The Times' editorial computer system was carefully designed to caITy heavy peak loads, since most reporters use the system dunug * Few quantitative data exist on the number of Americans working at home, with or without computers and communications networks. A 1984 Futurist article cites a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report indicating that " 10 million businesses list home addresses as their place of business" (Wolfgram, 1984). A Wall Street Journal editorial states, "A recent AT&T study reportedly found that I 1 million Americans work at home; 7 percent of the total labor force work at home full time and 6 percent pursue part tune jobs at home" (Wall Street Journal, 1984). And a recent article in Reason cites the AT&T esiunate, as well as a figure of "5-10 million, reported in Consumer's Digest" (Rubies, 19~).
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INTONATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE HOME 129 the same hours before deadline. The editorial staff helped design the terminal configuration and functions so that the system would serve the needs of its users rather than its technical developers. Although some reporters expressed initial apprehension, most adopted the computer system eagerly within a few months and have discarded their old typewriters. This has been the general newspaper experience with editorial computer systems (Johnston, 19841. Dial-up access was an important part of the system design so that reporters outside of Washington and Southern California could file their stories remotely. But the design did not anticipate the local reporters' enthusiasm for using the computer system from home or on assignment. Even during 1980-1982 when the system was designed, using computers for work at home was not widely accepted outside the computer field itself. Moreover, truly portable computers with built-in modems and enough capacity for serious word processing were not yet available. All this has changed in the last two years. More than 100 Los Angeles Times reporters regularly use portable computers or PCs at home to write their stories and then send them electronically to the central computer system. The reporters can plan their time more flexibly, spend more time on assignment, and work closer to deadline. An increasing number of reporters now work part time at home. The Los Angeles Times experience seems likely to be replicated as other businesses install computer systems for their professional em- ployees and permit them to interact with the systems at home. Financial and accounting staff will access corporate data bases, perform analyses, and write reports from home. Managers will use electronic mail systems from home to keep in touch with their coworkers, as well as to substitute for some office correspondence and telephone calls. Profes- sional and other -white-collar workers in the academic, government, and nonprofit sectors will do the same. Information technologies make it easier for information workers to do at least some of their work at home. Barriers to Computer-Based Telework Significant nontechnical barriers to work at home remain, however, for those who are not self-employed. From the employer's viewpoint, there are several disadvantages: · Part-time work at home does not save office or administrative costs, at least in the short run. The Los Angeles Times reporters still want their own desks in the office, each with a computer terminal, of course. In
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130 WALTER S. BARR principle, an employer could reduce office space requirements if employees spent an appreciable paw of their work time at home but, in practice, office space sharing appears difficult to implement. · Work at home will cost employers more if they must pay for the home computer, communications, and other work materials. These added costs are usually easier to measure than the productivity gains attributable to . . work done at home. Employers' liability insurance costs will also increase if they must cover working at home. - Many employers believe that face-to-face interactions in the office are essential, both for efficient functioning of the business and for effective use of the company's human resources. They argue that high morale, loyalty, and effective communications among employees come from working together in an office rather than from working individually at home. Data security problems arise when sensitive information is available at home. Processing insurance claims or conducting financial analyses re- quires access to confidential data. The security problems include not just wiretapping and unauthorized access to computer data bases, but, more importantly, physical security in the home environment. Homes do not have guards, locked files, or other physical protections that offices employ. Establishing these safeguards in employees' homes would impose huge costs and administrative burdens on both employers and employees. Tolerating a lower level of data security in the home may be acceptable at present, but not in the future if part-time work at home becomes widespread. In general, management control is more difficult in multiple home locations than in a centralized office. Except at senior managerial and professional levels, working at home runs counter to established control mechanisms and policies of most corporations and government agen- cles. Organized labor also opposes computer-based work at home. In the 1930s unions successfully fought against homework in the apparel industries, arguing that the niinimum wage and other labor standards could not be enforced for work at home. Under the authority of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the U.S. Department of Labor in 1943 banned homework for women's garments, knitted outerwear, glove and mitten manufacturing, embroidery, handkerchief manufac- luring, jewelry making, and button and buckle manufacturing. The Reagan adn~nistration's efforts to end these bans have so far been rejected by the courts (Taylor, 1983~. Unions believe that the same issues surrounding garment making will apply to computer-based homework. While agreeing that part- time work at home may be appropriate for managers and some
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INFORAlATION TEClI?JOLOGIES IN THE lIOMR 131 professional employees, they contend that clerical and support workers will be paid less than minimum wage, lose benefits, and otherwise be exploited in "electronic sweatshops" (Chamot and Zalusky, 1983~. The 780,000-member Service Employees International Union has banned homework by its members (Rubies, 19841. The AFL-CIO, at its Fifteenth Constitutional Convention in October 1983, formally adopted a resolution against computer homework: RESOLVED: That the AFL-CIO calls for an early ban on computer homework by the Department of Labor as a measure of protection for those workers entering the market for the fastest-growing occupation in the United States. Government Policies Affecting Work at Home Some government regulations and policies also discourage the use of information technologies for work at home. Tax policies represent a prime example. Over the last several years, the Internal Revenue Service has tightened its position on deductions for home offices and home computers. It is now very difficult for an employee to deduct such costs if the employer provides work space and equipment at the office. An employee's ability to deduct work-related costs certainly influences his or her decision about whether to work part time at home. Zoning laws also affect the kind and amount of work that can be performed in a residential area. In Los Angeles, for example, I may legally use a computer at home to conduct business, either for myself or for my employer. However, I may not have any employees working at my home office, nor may I see any customers or suppliers at home. Chicago has a much more restrictive zoning ordinance, which prohibits professional work at home involving "installation or use of any mechanical or electrical equipment customarily incident to the practice of any such professions." The Chicago ordinance has actually been invoked to stop a teacher and his wife from writing a textbook or developing software programs on their home computer (Rubies, 1984~. Zoning laws can, of course, be changed to suit new circumstances, but only after many hearings, much effort, and a great deal of time. Like changing corporate policies and union rules, it takes longer to change zoning laws, tax regulations, and other government policies than to develop new information technologies. In summary, technological developments, as well as changing life- styles, favor bringing more work home from the office. But the institutional policies of government, unions, and business make the
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132 WALTER S. BAER shift more difficult. Businesses particularly are conservative organi- zations. Even though more than 100 U.S. corporations have tested the telework concept, with generally positive results, most companies still appear reluctant to change established practices to encourage its widespread application. DOING CHORES AT HOME Not everyone earns a living by working at home, but virtually all of us do housework. In housework, I include sedentary chores such as bill paying and tax preparation, as well as the physical tasks of cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance. Information technologies aid us in doing chores at home in three principal ways: (1) by controlling the appliances we use for housework, (2) by establishing local networks for home communications and control, and (3) by directly providing electronic information and transaction services from the home. Controlling Appliances "The technological systems that presently dominate our households were built on the assumption that a full-time housewife would be operating them . . .'' (Cowan, 19831. That assumption, of course, no longer holds true in most Amencan households. Information technology in the form of the microprocessor permits more flexible control of appliances, thus supporting the life-styles of busy people who work outside (or perhaps inside) the home. Even as families contemplate the purchase of a home computer, microprocessors are entering their homes as control components of stand-alone appliances. Microwave ovens, refrigerators, washers, and sewing machines contain microprocessor-based controls that can pro- ceed through a complex series of steps and respond more accurately to the surrounding environment. Ovens can be preprogrammed to defrost, brown, and heat sequentially so that dinner is ready 15 minutes after the last family member comes home from work or school. Refngerators monitor their own operations and signal if a door is not closed tightly or a mechnical malfunction occurs. Limits to what microprocessor-controlled appliances can do are set more by available sensors than by the microprocessors themselves. For example, it is not too farfetched to anticipate a cleaning robot in the 1990s that can vacuum automatically without stumbling into furniture. Achieving this, however, will require substantial advances and cost reductions in sensor technologies as well as processing capabilities.
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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE HOME 133 The diffusion of microprocessors in the home is somewhat analogous to the home use of electric motors. Before the 1930s, electric motors were too large and expensive for most home applications. The devel- opment of cheap, fractional-horsepower motors led to the proliferation of small motorized appliances after World War II. Middle-class Amer- ican households today have literally dozens of electric motors in blenders, grinders, can openers, knives, power tools, hair dryers, toys, and toothbrushes. In a similar way, inexpensive microprocessors are becoming commonplace in everyday household appliances. Home Networks Local networks within the home allow even more flexible control of appliances, as well as security and other home management func- tions. Microprocessor-based controllers use the home's electrical wiring to signal appliances from a central panel in the kitchen or bedroom. The television set can also serve as the central panel, controlled by a hand-held device similar to a remote channel switcher. With these home networks, lights or appliances can be turned on and off from another part of the house, or remotely from outside the home with a telephone call. Home networks can also help in energy management by, for example, allowing you to call home to turn on the heat in an empty house just before arriving. "Smart telephones" and telephone peripheral equipment also sup- port busy life-styles and aid home management functions. Thirteen percent of Los Angeles households have a telephone-answering ma- chine, although the extent to which these devices improve the quality of life for either the caller or the answering party remains open to question. Home security systems linked to the telephone or to cable TV networks also are in demand. AT&T now offers a microprocessor- based smoke alann connected to the telephone that, when triggered by smoke, dials a preprogrammed number and announces, "Fire! at [the specified address].'' Developers commonly offer microprocessor- controlled intrusion alarm systems as amenities in newly constructed apartments, condominiums, and houses. Home Infonnation and Transaction Services Personal computers and home terminals linked to external data bases will encourage more electronic information gathering and trans- actions from the home. The telephone, of course, has provided such services for more than a century. Although similar computer-based
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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE HOME . of television receivers: 141 Direct broadcast satellite (DBS) could beam 12 or more television channels to the home by the end of this decade. Although some early entrants have withdrawn from the field, DBS service still holds promise, especially for rural households that are not well served by conventional broadcast and cable television. Fiber optic systems may in the 1990s overtake coaxial cable for video distribution to the home. The wired video distribution networks of the twenty-first century probably will be switched, digital, and fiber optic. Both the telephone and cable television industries are positioning them- selves to provide fiber optic systems in the future (Beer, 1984~. Efforts are also under way to improve the image and sound quality · Stereo sound reception is already available in top-of-the-line receivers. Only a few TV stations are as yet broadcasting in stereo, but the industry expects consumer demand to accelerate and to prove a boon to TV set manufacturers. Some TV programs will carry bilingual sound tracks instead of stereo. · Digital TV sets contain a few digital chips that replace several hundred analog components. They might be more accurately termed "digitizing" TV sets, since they convert an analog TV signal to digital, process it digitally, and then reconvert it back to analog for display. Digital sets improve image and sound quality by simplifying TV signal alignment, reducing ghosts and noise, and compensating for aging components. The built-in digital circuitry should lower the cost of teletext and videotex decoding, as well as provide new features such as freeze-firame and split- screen viewing. Already available in Europe, digital TV sets will be on the market in the United States by early 1985. Many industry experts expect digital sets to capture the bulk of the television receiver market within a few years. · Comporzent video systems separate the television display monitor and audio speakers from the tuner and other picture and sound processing components. Component systems appeal primarily to serious videophiles who want better image and sound quality, particularly when playing videotapes and videodisks. · High-definition 1V (HDTV) would replace the 525-line NTSC standard, which has prevailed in North America since the 1940s, with images containing 1,000 or more lines. At this resolution, the perceived image quality is about the same as that of 35mm film. In addition to more lines, HDTV also will have a wider aspect ratio, multichannel sound, and a better technical method of transmitting the brightness, color, and sound information within the available TV bandwidth. Technical groups are now studying the issues surrounding HDTV and hope to reach agreement on international standards for HDTV systems. Digital signal processing within the TV receiver can help deal with compatibility problems between HDTV
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142 WALTER S. BEER and existing television standards. However, because digital signal pro- cessing can clean up lower-resolution images from existing standards and make them look better to viewers, digital TV sets may actually hold back the demand for HDTV. - Projection [V and other large-screen displays are improving in quality but remain limited in consumer appeal by the low resolution of NTSC television images. Digital signal processing or high-definition TV will make large- screen display much more attractive to consumers. Work on flat panel displays is also progressing, although these new technologies still find it difficult to compete in cost with the venerable television CRT. Consumer purchases of videocassette recorders (VCRs) have sur- passed even optimistic projections of a year ago. The installed base of home VCRs has grown from less than 1 million in 1979 to 9 million by the end of 1983. Sales in 1984 are up over 60 percent above 1983, with no signs of leveling off. The industry estimates that 16 percent of U.S. households have VCRs now, and projections are for- 30 percent market penetration by 1986, and perhaps 50 percent by 1990. Consumers want VCRs both to record programming from broadcast or cable TV for viewing at more convenient times and to play prerecorded tapes. The prerecorded tape rental business has grown as rapidly as VCR sales, giving VCR owners an even wider range of program choices. The impact of VCRs on home activities is discussed below. Videodisk players may make a comeback in the home, despite RCA's well-publicized exit from the business after losses of nearly $600 million. Optical videodisk players offer better image and sound quality than VCRs or the CED videodisks that RCA marketed. The anticipated success of "compact'' audiodisks using similar technology for high- quality sound reproduction may reawaken interest in optical videodisks as well. So, too, may the use of the optical videodisk's interactive capabilities for games and, eventually, information retrieval. Following their success in video arcades, several companies are developing videodisk games for the home. Still, videodisk players are likely to have a narrow appeal to affluent early adopters rather than appealing to the mass home market. These technical developments in distribution systems, television receivers, VCRs, and videodisks continue the trend toward making more video channels available in the home with technically better image and sound quality. The number and variety of available video programs also are increasing, although not as rapidly as the channels for distributing them. Opinions differ widely as to whether the quality of video programming available in the home has improved. Survey data suggest that consumers perceive the new video technologies more
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l~FORMATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE HOME 143 positively than conventional television programing, which more respondents think has worsened rather than improved in the past year (Table 6~. However, the ratio of "worsened" to "improved" responses has changed from nearly 3 to 1 in 1980 to about 3 to 2 in 1984. By comparison, the perceived change in cable/pay TV quality in 1984 is positive by more than a 3-to-1 ratio. Consumer attitudes toward videotape recorders have remained much more positive than negative over the past four years. New Technologies' Challenge to Television Other infonnation technologies seek to challenge television for the individual's leisure time. Videogames have been the principal diversion, especially for children. Videogames have been purchased by one- quarter of American households, or nearly 40 percent of all households with children. But enthusiasm for action videogames is declining, at least among adults who respond to surveys (Table 61. More people now think these games "make life worse" than "make life better," a reversal of attitude in the past two years. Interest is turnung away from videogame-only consoles to more sophisticated games played on home computers. They range from software versions of Tnvial Pursuit to board games (Scrabble, back- gammon, chess) to interactive fiction in which players create their own TABLE 6 Consumer Perceptions of Home Entertainment Technologies, 1981-1984 Percent Responding 1981 1982 1983 1984 Quality of TV programming —Improved 19 16 22 27 Worsened 55 54 48 42 Quality of cable/pay TV Improved — 47 Worsened 15 Videotape recorders Make life better 25 22 19 26 Make life worse 9 11 10 10 TV games - Make life better 24 22 19 20 Make life worse 12 17 23 24 SOURCE: Yankelovich, Skelly, and White, Inc. 1984. The Yaulcelovich Monitor. New York. Reprinted with permission.
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144 WALTER S. BAER characters and participate in an adventure story (Zork, Witness). A recent book on the psychological implications of computers describes how compelling interactive fiction games can be for children and teenagers (Turkle, 1984,~and, I suspect, for adults. Up to now, electronic games in the home have been stand-alone units connected to the television set or to the computer display. Downloading games via telephone, cable, or satellite is technically feasible and may prove economically attractive to consumers. Several companies are now testing the commercial prospects for downloaded games. Games are also a prominent feature of videotex and other interactive home information services. Videotex games are now played interactively between a player at home and the host computer. However, technical advances in microprocessor hardware, software, and communications are proceeding to a point where multiplayer interactive games may be offered commercially within the next two or three years. Such games would link players in separate households via cable television or the telephone network, with the host computer acting as referee. As Robert Lucky of AT&T Bell Laboratories has suggested, videotex and communications companies' new advertising theme may be "Reach out and play someone" (Lucky, 19841. Videotex brings information on demand, including (for leisure activ- ities) news, sports, and other features. It also enables subscribers to send messages and chat electronically. Electronic bulletin boards on such topics as movie reviews, recipes, and dating have proved very popular in videotex and other home information services around the country. Videotex will not replace the telephone for person-to-person communications or supplant newspapers and other print media for most information needs, but it seems likely to find a niche among media uses in the home. Will any of these new, more interactive services displace television viewing? If they are to have significant impact on leisure activities, they must take some time away from television. There is simply very little time in other home leisure categories to replace. Social commentators often criticize television viewing as a passive, lowest-common-denominator activity. Despite more program options and better technical image quality, most intellectuals still consider television a "vast wasteland." They would like to see television viewing replaced by more active pursuits, such as learning, conversing with others, and even game playing. But the critics' concerns are not really relevant here; individual preferences are the real issue. Prospects for displacing television with other activities are supported
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IlIFO~IATION TEClINOLOGIPS IN THE HOME 145 by studies showing that television provides relatively low consumer satisfaction. Robinson reports the results of a 1975 survey in which respondents rated various activities on a scale from 0 (dislike a great deal) to 10 (like a great deal): While the average score of 6.1 for TV viewing did fall on the positive side of the scale, it was well below the scores of almost all other free time activities.... Television was rated about the same as housework for women (but not for men) and well below work. (Robinson, 1981) Opinion surveys conducted over three decades show growing consumer dissatisfaction with television. Half of a sample surveyed in 1980 agreed that "television am to he. ~ettincr Vat ~11 the timely ~ ,^~ =_~= ~~ ~^ —_ ~~ ~~— ~~lA&~~ compared to 24 percent in 1960 (Bower, forthcoming). These results are consistent with the Yankelovich findings shown in Table 6. More consumers consistently say that the quality of television nro~rammino has "worsened" than that it has "improved.'' Other media experts contend, however, that television precisely meets the needs of tired individuals who seek relaxation at home. They want passive, undemanding entertainment during their evening leisure hours. Watching television is habitual, Russell Neuman con- cludes after reviewing studies of viewer behavior: ~ cat— _ ~ The viewer plops down in front of the set, spins the dial, examines the programs available, arid selects the least objectionable. Surveys repeatedly confirm that most viewers report '~watching whatever is on.". . . Close analysis of viewing behavior indicates there is almost no correlation between expressed preferences and actual viewing behavior. (Neuman, forthcoming) Television may generate a low level of viewer enthusiasm, but it has a high level of acceptance. Videogames may be displacing some television viewing time among children, although the data are still quite sparse (Greenfield, 1984~. In one study reviewed by Greenfield, children watched less television after they received home videogames. Whether this change will persist after the novelty of the videogame wears off is not really known. With the possible exception of videogames, there is no convincing evidence as yet about the mass entertainment appeal of other infor- mation technologies and services. Multiplayer interactive games have largely been confined to computer hackers and students with access to powerful mainframes. Videotex may over time prove popular for leisure-time activities, as well as for transactions and information gathering, but videotex will not be a mass market service for several
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146 WALTER S. SIR years to come. In general, the most enthusiastic users of interactive services are likely to be infrequent users of television. Consequently, the burden of proof still falls on those new activities that would displace the time individuals now spend watching television. A separate but related question is the significance of the shift toward watching videotapes rather than television. Consumers use their VCRs to shift viewing times to suit their convenience. Time shifting of daytime soap operas for evening viewing is a frequently cited example. Some viewers even prefer to record sports events for later replay. They must then avoid listening to the results on the radio or reading them in a newspaper before watching their tape. Viewers also like the choice of content available from tape rental stores. Tape rentals further fragment the viewing audience and contribute to the trend toward watching less network programming. Television advertisers already are concerned about VCR viewers who fast-forward through commercial breaks. Such "zapping'' is evidently widespread. An A. C. Nielsen survey last fall found that 65 percent of VCR owners use their fast-forward button to zap commer- cials.* Although one cannot extrapolate too far from these data from relatively affluent households, zapping cuts to the heart of advertiser- supported television in the United States. The impact could be great as VCR ownership moves toward 50 percent of U.S. households. Videotape and videodisk players also pennit a form of "browsing" through video materials that cannot be done with conventional tele- vision. Viewers can speed up or slow down a sequence, stop to watch a still frame, and go back to take another look at a sequence of particular interest. Video browsing seems confined to a small number of serious videophiles today, but it could become a routine way to watch video programing when VCR ownership becomes widespread. THE IMPACT OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES ON HOME ACTIVITIES How information technologies will affect these four broad categories of home activities working, doing chores, learning, and relaxing—is * I recall one recent evening when a TV viewer pressed the fast-forward button on his VCR controller as a commercial appeared, and nothing happened! "You mean we're watching in real time?" he said with impatience and incredulity.
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lNFORAlATION TEClINOLOGIES IN THE lIOME 147 summarized in Table 7. Up to now, technology has had a modest influence on working at home. That may change, since computer and communications technologies make it possible for more people to substitute working at home for working in an office. For most workers, however, the substitution will be partial rather than complete. And it will be slow. Infonnation technologies have the potential to transform work at home, but decisions by individuals and institutions seem likely to bring about far more modest changes in the next decade. Households make relatively modest use of information technolo- gies principally the telephon~for doing chores. However, the trend seems clear for significantly increased use of microprocessor controls, home networks, and electronic transaction services over the next decade. Yet their long-term impact on household productivity or on the perceived quality of life may be quite modest. These technologies primarily support the life-styles of busy people seeking to minimize the time and toil of household chores. They do not change the nature of these chores materially, nor do they elevate them to more satisfying pursuits. Rather, just as electricity and the telephone moved from being household luxuries to being necessities, so these newer infor- mation technologies will gradually become integrated into routine home management tasks. Technology's impact on learning at home is much less clear. Past experience with other educational technologies should make us skew tical about extravagant claims for the computer. But computers just might be different. Some of the recent studies of kids and computers hint that, over the long term, computers might really bring about profound changes in learning. The field is moving so rapidly that we have little notion of what state-of-the-art learning software will be even a few years from now, in either the school or the home environment. Television already has significantly influenced leisure time at home. The new technologies~able, direct broadcast satellite, VCRs, inter- active games, and videotex—will not displace conventional TV. Never- theless, they seem likely to fragment further the mass audience for TABLE 7 Impact of Information Technologies on Home Activities . _ . Home Present Likely Impact in Potential Long- Activity Impact Next Decade Tenn Impact Working modest modest significant Doing chores modest significant modest Learning modest ? significant Relaxing significant significant significant
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148 WALTER S. BAER television and otherwise significantly affect leisure-time habits for a substantial number of people. These specific activities in the home raise broader questions of how information technologies may affect personal relationships, family structures, and the overall concept of the home itself. Certainly information technologies give individuals more options as to what activities they can perfo~ at home: · Earning a living Learning · Communicating with others · Playing and relaxing They encourage our efforts to customize our activities and our life- styles. Information technologies also expand our links with other people beyond the physical limitations of home, city, and even nation. Scientists and engineers well recognize that our communities of interest extend throughout the United States and into other countries. The telephone has been the pnucipal technology pe~tting us to build networks of colleagues and fnends, largely independent of geography. We have established what Melvin Webber called `'communities without propinquity." Computer networks available at home as well as in the office will enlarge the range and scope of these relationships, enabling us to share common interests and experience. But technology, a neutral force, could also serve to isolate rather than to unite us. Max Fnsch explains: "Technology is the knack for organizing the world so we don't have to experience it." As is often the case, novelists have seen these issues long before technologists. Seventy-five years ago E. M. Forster gave us an apocalyptic vision of information technologies in the home in his short story "The Machine Stops": Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance.... An armchair is in the center, by its side, a reading desk— that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a Angus. It is to her that the little room belongs. There were buttons and switches everywhere—buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the hot bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor filled to the brim with a wann deodorized liquid. There was the cold bath button. There was a button that produced literature. And there were, of course, the buttons by which
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INTONATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE HOME 149 she communicated with her fnends. The room, although it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world. (Forster, 1968) This is the nightmare of information technologies used not to enhance expenence, but to avoid it. Technology could be used to create wholly artificial environments and to substitute for human interaction. Tech- nology could reduce the electronic cottage to the electronic isolation booth. Forster's nightmare stands diametrically opposed to Orwell's night- mare, with which we are more familiar, of information technologies used by a malevolent government to spy on individuals in their homes. Although it might be technically feasible for Big Brother to watch us at home via two-way television, we have not chosen that direction. The Orwellian nightmare of information technology used to entrench despotic authority and stamp out individual freedom does not seem a likely possibility today in the United States or other democracies. We recognize that technology need not determine our destiny. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the Forsterian nightmare of electronic isolation, although it, too, does not seem a likely prospect. Humans are still largely social beings. Despite the solipsistic possibil- ities offered by television, videogames, and electronic shopping at home, people like to be with people much of the time. Americans believe that technology makes it easier, not more difficult, to maintain close, personal contact with other people (Yankelovich, Skelly, and White, 1984~. Nevertheless, we must remain aware of the possibilities for misuse of information technologies as we seek to develop and commercialize them. The key feature of information technologies in the home is that they give more control to individuals. They permit us greater freedom to control where and when we work, do chores, learn, play actively, and are entertained. They offer us more choices of materials in more convenient forms, for entertainment and learning. They provide us with more flexibility in obtaining information, making transactions, and communicating with individuals and institutions. They may even over time replace some passive television viewing with more active pursuits. Of course, how these technologies will be used in the home and how the home itself evolves depend far more on nontechnical than technical factors. Technology largely supports ongoing changes in individual life-style choices, family structure, and the relationships among the home, the school, the office, and other societal institutions. It is probably not correct to say that information technologies them-
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150 WALTER S. BEER selves will transform the home environment. They are more responsive than causal. They do, however, support distributed decision making more than centralized authonty, and they encourage some transfer of control from entertainment producers to viewers, from bosses to workers, and from instructors to learners. By empowering individuals' decisions at home, information technologies can enhance the functions of the home in an info~ation-nch society. REFERENCES A. C. Nielsen Company. 1984. Nielsen Report on Television. Northbrook, Ill. Baer, Walter S. 1984. Telephone and cable companies: partners or rivals for video distribution? In Competition of Video Media, Eli M. Noam, ed. New York: Columbia University Press. Bower, Robert T. (Forthcoming) The Changing Television Audience in Amenca. New York: Columbia Ur~versity Press. Chamot, D., and J. L. Zalusky. The Electronic Sweatshop: The Use and Misuse of Work Stations in the Home. Paper presented at National Executive Forum, National Academy of Sciences, Washington D.C., November 9-10, 1983. Comstock, G. 1982. Television and A~nencan social institutions. Pp. 33~348 in Television and Behavior: Ten Years of Scientific Progress and Implications for the Eighties, Voi. 2. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Cook, T. D., H. Appleton, R. F. Connor, A. Shaffer, G. Tomkin, and S. J. Weber. 1975. Sesame Street Revisited. New York: Russell Sage. Cowan, R. S. 1983. More Work for Mother. New York: Basic Books. Dorr, A., S. B. Graves, and E. Phelps. 1980. Television literacy for young children. Journal of Communication. Vol. 30, p. 71-83. Forster, E. M. 1968. The machine stops. Collected Tales of E. M. Forster. New York: The Modern Library. First published in Oxford and Cambridge Review, 1909. Greenfield, P. M. 1984. Mind and Media. Canabndge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Harkness, R. C. 1977. Technology Assessment of Telecom~nunicationtTransportation Interactions. Menlo Park, Calif.: Stanford Research Institute. Hayes-Roth, F. 1984. The machine as partner of the new professional. IEEE Spectrum, June:28-3 1. Holden, C. 1984. Will home computers transform schools? Science, July 20:296. Johnston, D. 1984. A newsman's view of technology. IEEE Spectrum, June:112-113. Juster, F. T. (Forthcoming) A note on recent changes in time use. In Time, Goods and Well Being, F. T. Juster and F. P. Stafford, eds. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, Survey Research Center. Krier, B. A. 1984. Futunsts compute the influence of computing. Los Angeles Times, September 21:VI, V24. Lucky, R. 1984. "Entertain me": television's omnipresence. IEEE Spectrum, June:85- 89. Market Data Retrieval. 1984. Microcomputers in schools, 1983-84: a comprehensive suIvey and analysis. Education Week, September 5:1AS. Neuman, W. R. (Forthcoming) The media habit. In Electronic Publishing Plus, Martin Greenberger, ed. White Plains, N.Y.: Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc. Nilles, J. M., F. R. Carlson, P. Gray, and G. 1. Hanneman. 1976. The Telecommuni-
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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE HOME 151 cations-Transportation Tradeoff: Options for Tomorrow. New York: Wiley Intersci- ence. Olson, M. H. 1983. Remote office work: changing work patterns in space and time. Communications of the ACM, March: 182-187. Papert, S. 1980. Mindstonns: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books. Reagan, R. 1984. Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony, 1983 Young American Medals for Bravery. Presidential Document. Administration of Ronald Reagan, August 28. Robinson, J. P. 1977. How Americans Use Time. New York: Praeger. Robinson, J. P. 1981. Television and leisure time: a new scenario. Journal of Commu- nication, Winter:12~130. Roper, B. W. 1984. Trends and Attitudes Toward Television and Other Media: A Twenty-Four Year Review. New York: Television Information Office. Rubins, D. 1984. Will the plug be pulled? Reason, October:2~32. Shavelson, R. J., and J. D. Winkler. 1984. Realizing the potential of intonation technology in American education. MITI Journal, October. Taylor, S., Jr. 1983. Court reinstates federal rules affecting industrial home work. New York Times, November 30:A25. Tower, A. 1980. The Third Wave. New York: William Morrow. Turkle, S. 1984. The Second Self. New York: Simon & Schuster. Wall Street Journal. 1984. No work place like home. February 23:23. Williams, F. 1982. The Communications Revolution. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publi- cations. Wolfgram, T. H. 1984. Working at home. The Futurist, June:31-34. Yankee Group. 1984. Yankeevision. Boston, Massachusetts, May:35-37. Yankelovich, Skelly, and White, Inc. 1984. The Yankelovich Monitor. New York. Comments ROLAND W. SCHMITT Senior Vice-President, CoIporate Research and Development General Electric Company I think Walter Baer's paper is an excellent overview and delineation of this field of information technologies in the home. It codifies and defines the terms of reference for discussion of this topic probably better than any I have seen in the past. The issues he raises have two dimensions. He has highlighted one of these dimensions that of working, doing chores, learning, relaxing. There is also that other axis of issues that he discussed the question of how certain is the likely future? When is it going to happen? What surprises are going to be there? I want to dwell on a couple of topics pertaining to this second axis. First, however, let me say that one of the key observations that Dr. Baer has made is that when you are looking at information technologies in the home, the key parameter is not discretionary dollars, but discretionary minutes and discretionary hours. I think that is something you must keep in mind when talking about this topic. I would like to deal with two issues. First, markets. You might say it is a little dangerous for a technical person to deal with markets, but Dankly, it is my experience that the marketing people do such a poor job of dealing with
Representative terms from entire chapter: