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This blog wishes it be known that the opinions presented herein are the sole responsibility of the author, and do not represent the feelings, opinions, ideas, or conclusions of any affiliated organization or group. Additionally, the author has chosen to keep the blog confidential during the Olympic Games 2008, as the reaction of the PRC towards foreign opinion remains ungauged. Thanks for reading.
Beijingfuturesdreams, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

August -- The Futures Present Opinion: "U-Home" brought to by Haier

Park is located just inside of Beijing's 4th ring road, in the quickly developing East Side of the city. It 60 plus hectare area is currently one of the cities largest green spaces, including a small amusement park, massive lake system, and miles of walking paths. Sony Entertainment has built a Science exploration center here, and other commercial interests are allowed to build within the park and keep its high priced real estate green. It is also host to the Beach Volleyball portion of the Olympic Games.

Upon entering the gates to the Park, i was immediately met with Coca Cola companies marketing campaign-- Cheerleaders dancing below a mammoth screen, music blaring at alarming levels, and more Red and White everythings than could be listed here. More commentary on companies saturating the Olympic surroundings, and their prolific use of the Olympic logo in entries to come.

Tucked just behind the soda installation were two bubble dome structures, rising from the sidewalk like bubbles through a straw into a glass of Mother's Milk. The hot pink signs emblazoned along the pathway denoted this territory of Haier, a China based manufacturer of home-appliances and technologies. I was abruptly invited to investigate the "U-home" installation, a glimpse into the "future" of households.

And there it was... the seemingly ever-prevalent view of automated everything, hearkening back to the Immersive Images like GE's "Home of the Future", Disney's "Tomorrowland"(1984) or (2008).

Technologies on display:

1) The Refrigerator-- with Internet access, a camera for recording messages to the family, and RFID enabled stock management. We are told it can even be set to pre-order food for delivery via online retailers and delivery agents.

2)The Air Conditioner -- with television, and Internet access. Can be turned on via text message!

3)The Home Computer -- But this time without any of those nuisances, like wires.

4) The Touch Screen Panel -- Translucent glass embedded with touch screen sensors. Browse the Internet, order and watch movies, organize your life... by touch.

5) The Video Conference -- A center hub houses five cameras. Display camera switches depending on the person speaking. You can talk to your bosses anywhere in the world!

6) The Television -- now waterproof and ready for your tub/spa experience.

7) The Water Heater -- Send it a text message and it can have the warm water ready for you as you crawl along the ring road in your car.

8) The Clothes Washer -- Now detergent free.

The Home of the Future.... now!!!!!

But let's analyze this from a futures perspective.

We are presented with a vision of the future that is now nearly 80 years old. The original vision of the future was created during GE's most visionary time, when innovation and technology were just coming into the public eye on a mass marketing scale. These visions were also developed before environmental degradation, limited resource availability, and cultural extinction came under consideration.

A closer analysis of the actual technologies also turns up some interesting points. Many of the showcased technologies are now considered standard in most western homes, with saturation levels of 6 of the 8 listed technologies above 90 percent. The integration of the Internet and cellular communications technologies were not explicitly included in GE's original "futures" images, but it was implicit that ubiquitous communication would exist via some technology or another.

Perhaps the most important implication of Haier's "U-home" is that this Image of the Future, still is an amazing future to behold for a majority of China's population. This gives companies like Haier, and other companies in the Home Appliance industry a huge market to inspire, and entice. Additionally, the use of this "future" as a selling piece for possibilities here in China might imply that as other developing nations evolve they too may be presented with the same.

The factors that lie behind the manufacture, maintenance, and disposal of these technologies have begun to influence new opinions of their convenience and usefulness in societies that have been normalized to them. The long term impacts of the technologies is encouraging a re-thinking of them, while alternative innovations wait for consumer support and an equally powerful marketing campaign.

This begs the question: Is this the home U-want?

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