Saturday, March 05, 2005

Technology as Marketing

I'm about as suspicious of technology as I am about email from Nigeria. That's because technology is the snake oil of the twenty-first century. Adding new "bells and whistles" to something, regardless of whether they're needed, is considered a good way to get consumers to buy something they already have.

For example, if you manufacture coffee makers, there are a limited number of circumstances under which people will buy your product:

0. Their old coffee maker broke and needs replacing.

1. They finally moved out of their parent's house (or divorced) and need one of their own.

2. They need to give a practical gift.

3. A new one will make life much easier.

Over the first three circumstances you have little control. (Well, actually, you could ensure that their old coffee maker breaks if they bought your old model and you made it cheaply enough. But then who would be daft enough to buy the same brand of coffee maker that broke? Then again, if all your competitors also made their coffee makers nearly as cheaply as yours, all you'd have to do was make sure the thing outlasts the warranty. Or you could simply market the same coffee maker under a few different brand labels.)

Where was I? I seem to lost my train of thought. So while I'm looking for my train (and wondering where my luggage has gone off to) let me explain the business with starting the above list with zero.

I wanted to present content in this blog with a good balance between Ludditism and Geekiness. But I'm a bit concerned that there may be much more Luddite than Geek here. Of course, the fact that this is a blog should help balance things out. It's not like I'm scratching this into parchment under candlelight with India ink and a nib. No right-minded Luddite[1] would dare go near a computer let alone build a blog using one.

What does this have to do with my zero-starting list? I think I can answer that. Starting at zero is something programmers do. If we have a list (or array) of ten to "iterate" through, we go from 0 to 9, not 1 to 10. I do know the precise reason for this, but to explain it would diverge even more from coffee-making than ever. So let me wrap this up by convincing you that programming habits pervade my being to such an extent that they leak out into daily life, if you could call this a life. And thus I am a geek. QED.

Now then, I was leading up to the idea that if you want someone to buy your coffee maker, and that person already has one, you have to convince that person that yours will make his/her life better. In the absence of technology, you might achieve this by making the coffee maker look more attractive in some way by some combination of redesign and advertising. You'd pay a gorgeous model to appear in a commercial while using your coffee maker. Then you'd pay her some more to make bedroom eyes to a bleary-eyed man who was using your coffee maker during another commercial.

Or, you could use technology. It's cheaper than a model. And some people are tired of gorgeous models, especially the homemaker who has to get up a 5:00am each weekday and get three children off to three different schools before racing to work, hopefully remembering to drop the fourth child off at daycare on the way.

So what you do is hire a couple of engineers to add a few features, like the ability to tell the difference between a weekday and the weekend in order to automatically brew at 5:00am on the former and, say, 5:10am on the latter. (Don't forget, her kids have soccer on Saturday and Sunday school on Sunday.) And you add another feature where it knows if any particular weekday is, in fact, a holiday. And another feature that keeps the coffee maker's clock synchronized to the NIST atomic clock in Boulder CO. Because you know and I know that Super Mom doesn't have time to set her coffee maker's clock every time junior presses the GFI Test button and cuts off the power to it. More importantly, she knows it.

But what she doesn't know is that your coffee maker doesn't know the difference between really important holidays such as Memorial Day, and those lesser ones such as Veteran's Day, with the difference being that her work place doesn't open on Memorial Day but does open on Veteran's Day. She also doesn't know that the coffee maker will utterly fail to synchronize with the NIST atomic clock because the signal is too weak. Worst of all, she doesn't know that if she forgets to add the water one night, it'll try to brew anyway the following morning, turning the hot plate on under an empty pot. And that night will happen to be the one that the kids are sleeping over at their Gramma's house so that Mom can sleep until 8:00am. Except that she'll awaken at 6:37 when her smoke alarm pierces her precious sleep.

But that's a good thing, because then she'll need to buy another coffee maker!

[1] "Right-minded Luddite" is, of course, another oxymoron.


Anonymous said...

Mmm, coffee. I circumvent the entire process and go to Starbucks. Or buy powdered instant coffee that goes in microwaved milk. So, eh, advertisers and engineers would have to go after my microwaving needs. Or milk.

Anyways this is Tirsden from over at LiveJournal and I thought I'd say "hi!" and "who the heck are you!?" and "I've got a stalker, wheeeeeee!" and umm, no I haven't had coffee today... much.

"Luddite Geek" sounds like an oxymoron all by itself. I dunno if that's been said... Too cool, I like it. Some days I think "this world is so f'd up and our pursuit of technology in the name of whatever is going to get us all killed" and other days I'm like "you know, it blows me away to even think we've come so far as to put a glowing pixel on a screen, much less a bunch of them that put forth an image that makes any sense whatsoever." But then I think a lot of weird things.

Rock on! ^_^

Luddite Geek said...

Yuck. Is this what my comments page looks like? Silly me for not checking it first. Sorry, sorry.

My guess is a lot of people feel the way you do (or we do) about technology. But it's too cool not to have fun with, right?

Keep having fun!

Anonymous said...

Mmm, fun. I like fun. And this comments page isn't too bad. I've seen worse... much, much worse.