July 20, 2004

Small tech bad for big furniture

In this USA Today story furniture makers are said to be scrambling to adapt their technology furniture to modern computer technology. They just figured out how to make decent computer desks, and look what happens: everyone moves to laptops and flatscreens.

I predict that this is only going to increase as the monolithic computers that we're using right now fragment into task-specific computer-based tools for living. It's not surprising that "writing desks return" (as per a subhead in the story): writing is what people care about. They care about the task, not the tool. The furniture provides a context in which to do the task and needs to accommodate the tool (whether it's a tower-case PC or an inkwell), but it's purpose is to support the task.

Another interesting point is that furniture styles change more slowly than technology. That's absolutely true. In fact, other than the bleeding edge, furniture styles that people actually buy are pretty much frozen in the 1950s: Country, French Provincial, Colonial, Eames Modernist (and probably a couple others) represent 90% of the market. (maybe I'm wrong about this, maybe there's a secret cachet of "70s Swinger" style that's still getting a lot of play, but I don't think so) This is actually a good thing, since the adoption of smart furniture can leverage the expectations and modes of a host of existing furniture tropes (modalities, use cases, whatever you want to call the cluster of expectations people have for specific furniture pieces). The TV was a piece of furniture before it was an appliance (the Philco Predicta notwithstanding). Now it's pretty much unthinkable as a piece of furniture because culture has accepted it in its more natural state, but that intermediate stage was important for acceptance.

Posted by mikek at July 20, 2004 12:29 PM | TrackBack

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