Saturday, September 24, 2005

When we don't want what we can have

Ever since visiting the future tech exhibitions at Epcot when I was 10, I've been fascinated by the "digital home". Now focussed in the Innoventions pavillion, Disney still puts on a good spectacle (I mean, damn, Monsanto has an exhibition called "Beautiful Science"!) and trade show, but even the most spectacular exposure to new technology does not necessarily translate into real-world desire.

The Economist: The Digital Home | Science Fiction?

"'We view the digital home as critically important,' says Craig Mundie, one of three chief technology officers at Microsoft, the world's largest software company. 'The home is much more exciting than the workplace.' Computers have already led to small revolutions in boosting productivity in the office and helping people to communicate and to be creative, he says, so 'we're pretty confident' that computers will have a similar effect on the way people consume entertainment...

Their first challenge in stimulating any sort of consumer interest is the difficulty of merely explaining what the digital home is supposed to be. You might think, for instance, that the term refers to the long-established trend away from analogue and towards digital media...Confusingly, however, that is not what vendors mean when they talk about the digital home. Instead, they invariably mean a home in which all sorts of electronic devices—from the personal computer (PC) to the TV set-top box, the stereo, the game console and, in some versions, even the garage door and refrigerator—are connected, both to one another and to the internet...The excitement, therefore, is not so much about content being digital, but about its delivery switching from physical things (such as CDs) to photons (such as wireless downloads or streaming), because this requires consumers to buy new gadgets...

'When you ask customers what they want, they will never tell you. You have to show them first,' says Microsoft's Mr Mundie. That is why Microsoft has, since 1994, had an impressive (or, to some people, intimidating) mock digital home on its campus in Redmond, Washington State, which it updates with the latest gadgets. Intel, NETGEAR, HP and most other self-respecting technology firms have similar mock-ups for display. There is, argues Motorola's Mr Burke, a huge 'need to educate consumers about the value of a connected home and lifestyle.' Outside the controlled environment of a mock home or conference demonstration, however, educating consumers tends to backfire. That is because real-world digital homes usually do not work very well."

Oh, and maybe because we don't need "educating"?!

There are also some interesting points at the end of the article about companies continuing to "preach interoperability while pursuing proprietary hegemony" and the implications for consumers.


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