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Talking Appliances: A SCOT Analysis
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Talking Appliances: A SCOT Analysis

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The sudden appearance of talking appliances, and their even more abrupt disappearance is a curious technologically-related social phenomenon. This presentation uses the Social Construction of ...

The sudden appearance of talking appliances, and their even more abrupt disappearance is a curious technologically-related social phenomenon. This presentation uses the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) method to analyze the rise and fall of the talking appliance during the 1980s. It attempts to shed some light on the ‘what went wrong.'

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  • 'Please Hurry' Says Newest Alarm Clock (Money Magazine 1980)Talking Appliances - Those New Voices in Your Life (Pop. Science 1982)Have a Chat With a Talking Coke Machine (Montreal Gazette 1982)Coca Cola Adds Life…To Its Vending Machines (Beaver Country Times 1983)Hello 2000: 'It's time to stir the spaghetti‘ (Chicago Tribune 1984)Setting The Tone for the Future – Some Day Your Boss May Be a Machine (LA Times 1984)Let Your Machine Do The Talking (Milwaukee Journal 1984)
  • “The age of talking appliances is upon us.” (LA Times 1980)Talking appliances that use electronically created synthesized voices are booming everywhere.” (Pop. Science 1982)“The talking Coke vending machine…is being warmly received in the US where more than 100 of them have been on trial for more than a year.” (Montreal Gazette Mar 23 1982)“The age of the talking appliance is only a computer chip away” (Miami News, 1980)
  • Not quite sure how to sell it – just add voice to everything and let see what happens“Right now…we’ve got it – but we we’ve got to figure out what to do with it.” (prod manager at General Instruments)“People are more likely to pay attention to a voice than a buzzer…the results were much better with a woman’s voice whispering in their ears (NASA study of pilot’s reaction to voice commands)”
  • People got fed up with talking machines which just annoyed them. If they malfunctioned, you couldn’t shut them up. The story about the paper jam in the copier, the seat belt in the car, etc. – just couldn’t shut those machines up.
  • Headlines of the times“TALKING APPLIANCES COULD TURN HOUSE INTO A NAGGING NIGHTMARE” (Orlando Sentinel 1985)“Today's machines are good listeners - and they don't talk back.” (Chicago Sun Times 1987)“Consumers Balk at Devices That Talk” (News-Journal 1988)TALKING MACHINES: CONSUMERS ARE NOT READY FOR THEM (New Sunday Times 1988)AFTER FIVE YEARS CONSUMER RESISTANCE KILLS TALKING APPLIANCES (NY Times 1988)Forget a fill-up; how about a shut-up? (Dallas Morning News)
  • Reasons given for why it failed – all from the newspapersWas seen as a gimmick – no real value to consumersVoices didn’t sound naturalNever captured the imagination of consumers People were shocked by the voices. The culture never really gives us enough time to prepare for technology. There’s not enough of a buffer zone Consumers did not want machines ordering them around. We’re not willing to give them authority over us. We don’t trust them and we don’t know what they’ll tell us to do next. (Whirlpool) “We wanted our [dryer] to be nonirritating. The people we tested it on thought the voice was all right. They didn’t like the fact that the dryer talked in the first place.”Men didn't want to be prodded by a male voice.“ It aroused their competitive instincts. But a nudge from a female voice wasn't so bad but…Women did not want their husbands listening to a woman's voice whispering "washer fluid is low" or "trunk lid is ajar”
  • In the end, people just hated the appliances.“It’s the ultimate in intrusiveness. These cars tell you to close the door. What’s next the toilet that says ‘Flush again?’”“I know I don’t respond very well when a car tells me what to do. My first reaction is to punch it and I’m a civilized person.” (prod manager at a voice chip manuf)“What’s the difference between a mother who says ‘wake up’ and an alarm clock that says the same? The car and the driving instructor who command you to ‘fasten your seat belt? The teacher and the elevator who that order you to ‘close the door?” There is no difference. All of them talk. None of them listen. You can’t say ‘Shut up’ to any of them.“When we first had it [microwave oven] it was really wonderful and a unique experience to punch your oven and have it say “high” or “medium high” or “defrost.” I had hoped it would tell me how the food was doing or make suggestions on how I might do it better, but the problem was that it only told you the temperature. It was like a roommate that didn’t work out.”

Talking Appliances: A SCOT Analysis Talking Appliances: A SCOT Analysis Presentation Transcript

  • Great SCOT!Talking Appliances David Lavenda May 2010
  • A Talking Appliance Source: Wikipedia
  • $90B Household Appliance MarketWorldwide (2000) Source: Tschulena G. “Market Data – Sensors in Household Appliances” 2002
  • Talking Vending Machine - 1932
  • Modern Times 1970s - present
  • “Talking Appliances” Hype CycleNumber of Articles Per Year 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 1970-1975 1976-1980 1981-1985 1986-1990 1991-1995 1996-2000 2001-2005 2006-2010
  • 1970s
  • First Real Talking “Appliance”Kurzweil Reading Machine - 1976 “‟What is it good for?‟ Like a lot of clever computer software, it was a solution in search of a problem.” (Kurzweil 1974) Focused on the „blind‟ market after sitting next to a blind man on an airplane Cost of machine - $30K-$50K Cost of same „machine‟ in 2001 - $995 + PC Source: Kurzweil R. The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking 1999)
  • 1980-1984Price of Speech Chips drops to $5-10 / Appliance
  • Talking Appliances – 1980s  audio books  microwave ovens  automated teller machines  money identifiers  blood pressure meters  navigation systems  calculators  personal organizers  photocopiers  calendars  pill organizers  camera  prescription medicine bottles  automobiles  reading machines  cash registers  refrigerators  chess sets  scales  children‟s toys / robots  smoke detectors  clocks  spelling tutors  compasses  watches  computers  tape measures  dishwashers  thermometers  elevators  thermostats  glucose meters  ticket machines  timers  grocery checkouts  vending machines  language translators  video games
  • 1980-1984 1980-1984Talking Appliances Are Cool, Man
  • Talking Appliances Are „Far Out‟Talking Appliances Are ‘Far Out’
  • Predictions - 1980 [the computer chip]…. “will soon give voices from everything from blenders to washing machines.” “By 1983, the auto industry will replace „idiot lights‟ on the dashboard with the spoken word.” “By Christmas 1981, the market will be flooded with talking toys, smoke alarms, and calculators” (Nat. Semi product manager) “Is America Ready for A Talking Coffee Pot” The Miami News Nov 4 1980 p. 1 Source:
  • Early Talking Appliances “Hi! Im a talking vending machine for Coca Cola. Thank you for shopping at XXX.” [Pause music plays] “Please make your selection.” Source: “Coca-Cola adds life to... its vending machine” Beaver Country Times June 13 1983
  • What Were TheyWhat Were They Thinking? Thinking?
  • 1985-1990 The Tide Turns
  • 1985-1990The Tide Turns 1985-1990 The Tide Turns
  • Why itFailed Why It Failed
  • People Hated The AppliancesPeople Hated Their Appliances
  • The Crux“My husband talks back to me.My kids talk back to me.I don‟t want my dryer talking back to me.” Woman quoted in the NYT 1988
  • Rest in Peace By 1990, the talking appliance mass market was dead
  • SCOT Analysis
  • SCOT Relevant Social Groups Interpretative Flexibility Closure Stabilization
  • Relevant Social Groups Consumers, i.e. „mass market‟ Handicapped individuals, esp. blind people Industrial workers Suppliers  Chip manufacturers  Appliance manufacturers  distributors  retailers
  • Interpretative Flexibility of TalkingAppliances Mass consumer market  Gimmick, cool feature, “gadget envy”  Speech is an add-on, doesn‟t need to be comprehensive Handicapped/blind market  Speech is a necessary function  Speech must be comprehensive Industrial/specialized applications  Uses for places where people are “blind”  Speech needs to “fill in the holes” when people can‟t “look away” Manufacturers/distributors/integrators of speech technology  Profit-enabler – sell more product  Offer competitive advantage to “customers” in a huge market
  • Talking Appliances by Market  audio books  microwave ovens  automated teller machines  money identifiers  blood pressure meters  navigation systems  calculators  personal organizers  photocopiers  calendars  pill organizers  camera  prescription medicine bottles  automobiles  reading machines  cash registers  refrigerators  chess sets  scales  children‟s toys / robots  smoke detectors  clocks  spelling tutors  compasses  watches  computers  tape measures  dishwashers  thermometers  thermostats Blind people  elevators  ticket machines  glucose meters Mass consumers  timers  grocery checkouts  vending machines All markets  language translators  video games
  • Closure and Stabilization Mass market – talking devices have disappeared Handicapped / Blind – niche / public places Industrial /Specialized Applications Manufacturers
  • The Enddavid@lavenda.org