The Technium

The Kitchen Computer

Marketers seem not to have picked up on this:

The most used computer in our house — and many of our friends — is the one in the middle of the kitchen.

Not only is it the most used computer in our household, it has become the most used device in our house. More than the kitchen light (which is merely on at night), or the dishwasher, or the TV or radio, or our cars. There is simply no tool we use as much, or with as much satisfaction. Yet, I’ve never seen an ad for the kitchen computer.

It wasn’t always this way. A kitchen computer seemed a complete gilded luxury for a very computer-intensive household. But three years ago we bought an elegant Apple G5 iMac computer and set it down smack in the middle of our kitchen. It is one of the few seemingly non-essential purchases I’ve made that we have zero regrets about. If any of us are home this thing will be used. We play music on it. Watch DVDs while cooking. During dinner it answers questions. Our son plays online games on it. The teenagers will video conference with friends. We retrieve last minute maps from it. My wife does remote email from work. There are five people in our family and while we each have our own laptops or desktops, we are constantly looking things up on this ever-ready central node.

Kitchen Computer

What has been so fascinating is to see how much public or social use this one machine gets. For instance, this device seems to be the place to do YouTube. The beauty of YouTube is sharing clips, and nothing beats sharing your favorite video clips in the kitchen. We stand around as friends show off their favorites. We tend to forget, or ignore, the social aspects of exploring, learning, and playing — which is a lot of what online life is. These functions are enhanced when engaging them in the social space of a kitchen.

As many parents has noticed, this family social space serves as a great “screen” for kids online. We can not only keep an eye of what is happening online, we can also occasionally participate. Open-air (so to speak) usage also enhances the social process of asking questions. A kitchen-based node is also perfect for family-based queries as looking for a house to buy, or even shopping for gifts for siblings. Now that our eldest daughter has gone away to college we use the iMac’s camera to video conference with her in her dorm in the evenings, or with my parents back on the east coast. That’s another wonderful family event headquartered in the kitchen.

You could remove many electronic boxes from our home and we would not miss them. But if you took our kitchen computer away, it would hurt. In fact two weeks ago the Mac had to go in for repairs, and we kept turing to its vacant spot for help, only to groan. It felt a little like some feel without their cell phone.

I am reminded of how 15 years ago I bought a cheap computer projector (then solely used for office presentations) and hooked it up to a DVD player and surround sound to make a low-rent home theater (in our TV-less house). It was better than our local multiplex. I couldn’t figure out why everyone didn’t do that, or least why no projectors were engineered or sold for that purpose. At the time cheap home projectors for a large screen were a geeky hack. Now, of course, the same manufacturers are marketing inexpensive home theater projectors for just this purpose.

I believe in a few years electronic manufacturers — maybe Apple — will aim devices for the incredibly rich social space of the kitchen. In the meantime, everyone should set one up in the heart of the home.  Online is a family affair.

UPDATE: Steven Leckart brings to my attention that an early commercial computer, The Honeywell 316 in 1969, was at one point pitched for the kitchen. According to Wikipedia, “It sold for $10,000, weighs over 100 pounds, and is used for storing recipes (but reading or entering these recipes would have been very difficult for the average cook as the only “user interface” was the binary front panel lights and switches). It had a built in cutting board and had a few recipes built in. There is no evidence that any Honeywell Kitchen Computers were ever sold.” In short it was a concept computer, a marketing probe.

Kitchen Computer Ad-1


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