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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
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152 WALTER S. BAER high-technology markets that I do not fear to tread on that ground. Second, I will make a few comments on what is known as user-friendliness. Home information technology markets have some interesting characteristics. First, the user and the buyer of these technologies are really very closely linked. Most often they are the same person. That is a little different from the situation in a factory or office environment. A great number of noneconomic, nonfunctional considerations go into the reaction of the consumer; things like taste, fashion, curiosity many of the factors that Walter Baer commented on are very important. Therefore, I believe that these markets are really very hard to predict, and they are especially hard to mastermind. There is a lot of buying one and buying it once the Hula-Hoop example, if you like. Consider the evolution of videogames. The first ones really did not impress people very much, and most people dismissed them as a minor novelty. Suddenly, videogames came of age, and all at once we were hearing sweeping statements about a Pacman culture. We heard that videogames were the prototype of the industry of the future. You may remember that phrase, not heard very often anymore, Atari democrat. The pop sociologists told us that the videogame was either saving or ruining our youth, depending on whom you listened to. I recall a widely publicized seminar, held at Harvard University, on the educational impact of videogames. Remember how towns were slapping curfews on video arcades? Look at it today. The arcades are going broke. Those same prophets who were wrong on the two previous rounds are confidently predicting that the videogame is dead, and I suspect that they are just as wrong this time. Another example is the videocassette recorder (VCR). There was a very long period of latency before the VCR really hit its stride and became the major industry it is today. One of the big factors in that growth was the emergence of a mom-and-pop industry, the videotape leasing and renting industry. Suppose, for a minute, that someone in a large corporation had been smart enough early on to have envisaged the whole synergistic system that would be required to make the VCR industry boom. Suppose they had seen the necessity of establishing a network of video rental outlets and had put the ideas and scheduling together in a business plan. The answer from the top would have been that the investment is too high and the payback is too long. It just would not have gone. The present boom and growth has truly emerged, in my opinion, from the patient offering of a new technology, from expen- menting with it out there in the real market, depending on the vision, on the interest, on the entrepreneurship of a lot of people who are trying things, finding out what happens, and finding out what combinations will work. Given this background, I think we have to realize that as we go down the path of evolving information technologies in the home, it is going to be a highly experimental path, one of trial and error, and one where there are going to be a lot of contributions from a lot of different people. Therefore, again, I do not think that these markets will be easily masterminded. I would now like to turn to the topic of user-friendliness. It is a phrase we
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INFOR~IATION TEClINOLOGIES IN THE lIOME 153 hear time and time again, and to which we attach a lot of emphasis and importance. Frankly, I think we are doing a poor job of it today. I think we really do not understand the full dimensions of what is needed for user- fnendliness. We have heard much about home computers, and I share the frustrations and experiences of everyone who has pushed a disk in and had the screen read "Disk Read Error," "Error 11," or whatever else can happen. I contend that you can fix those things and still not be user-friendly by a wide margin. I believe that the key to widespread diffusion of the technologies that Walter Baer has been talking about is for us to get to a new level of understanding and appreciation of what user-friendliness really means. Frankly, I think that TV low enthusiasm but very high acceptance is a good standard for user-friendliness. I want to dramatize what I mean by user-fnendliness. Let me take the example of the telephone. Think for a minute what happens to you when you want to make a call on the telephone to someone whose number you do not know and whose number is not in that list of 30 numbers you can store in your telephone today. You pull out a big, thick volume that you have tucked away in some obscure spot to keep it from being unsightly, open it up, and run your finger down fine print to try to find the person you want. Then, of course, there is no space to lay the book near the telephone, so you balance it on your knee, hold one finger on the name, pick up the receiver, try to hold it to your ear and dial, and halfway through you drop the telephone book and receiver. ~ submit that that is not user-friendly. I believe that we do have to get to a new level of understanding and comprehension of user-fnendliness in order to make many home technologies come about. There are a number of technologies on the horizon that can help do that, but the biggest gain will come if we perfect voice input and voice recognition. If we move forward to a state where voice input is low cost and sophisticated, user-friendliness will be just around the corner. Finally, I agree, by and large, with the assessments that Walter Baer has made. The only one that I would question is whether the impact of learning in the home will be quite as large as he thinks it will be unless we solve the problem of user-fnendliness. Moreover, I think that the technologies required to improve user-fnendliness are only now emerging and being developed. The software related to such things as expert systems and artificial intelligence- if they come along as dramatically as many of us expect them t~will significantly improve our ability to build truly user-friendly products.