OPINION: Technology research detects a gap between leisure and work

The heart sinks at the thought of new research from an outfit

called the Happy Dog Group. The silly name surely indicates a dotcom

company that has managed to survive against the odds in the current

hostile environment.



Since what it does is send ethnographers to homes to live virtually

full-time with families to see what use they make of technology, and

Completely Barking Dog Group might be a more appropriate name.



Except that the ears of senior marketers invited to a presentation of

its Octagon study last week soon started to prick up. Many of the

findings of the commercial ethnographers who lived with their subjects

from 7am until 11pm each day could have been guessed at, but here was

evidence of what people actually do rather than what they tell market

researchers.



Some of it was agreeably dotty. People do actually use mobile phones in

the toilet. There was the couple who had bought and set up a TiVo hard

disc recorder but hadn't actually got round to using it. There was also

much evidence of people's reluctance to throw out old electrical

equipment such as TVs and computers. Instead they are passed on to

others in the household or stored in case they come in useful some

day.



But among the oddities some important themes emerged from the research,

which have considerable significance for investment decisions in the

sector.



Wisely, Happy Dog does not make predictions but creates scenarios of how

we behave now in the hope of getting close to how we might do so in

future.



The research, backed by major communications players, showed that past

history and how people use traditional media has a major impact on how

new technology is consumed. It confirmed a gulf between the computer and

the TV and attendant leisure and work assumptions.



The PC was seen as an individual task-oriented device and the TV as a

centre for entertainment and relaxation. Trying to bridge the work and

leisure spheres by, say, using the TV screen as an internet device is

therefore fraught with difficulty.



So not a great deal of evidence for convergence there. The best match

for that is between wireless communications and the radio, which comes

out well from the Happy Dog research. Both wireless and radio are seen

as technologies that create personal space and the two might be made for

each other. This may raise questions about the wisdom of seeing

third-generation mobiles as tiny television sets. Happy Dog also warns

that wireless marketing could be a dangerous game if it is seen as an

invasion of personal space.



Rather alarming for the TV industry is the finding that the communal

activity that brings families together round the TV set these days is

more likely to be the video game rather than favourite programmes. There

is further confirmation for the old finding that the fact that the TV

may be on from morning to night does not mean that anybody is actually

watching it.



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