Bell, 39, is a native Australian whose ethnography work helps translate insights about human behavior into technology for Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). She recently led a six-month study of the "digital home," conducting 400 interviews in 86 households across 13 countries. Here, she explains why The Jetsons is a fantasy that will never be achieved.
"Our office working spaces are framed by ideas of efficiency--saving time, money, energy--and we've often applied that to the home. We've tried to make the home more rational, all that language from the '30s and '40s about 'domestic science' and 'home economics.' But we actually spend more time doing laundry now than in 1945, which is staggering. You used to have to chop wood to do it! Why? Technology has changed our standards of cleanliness; now you don't wear the same thing twice. The machinery has made us more efficient on one level, but it also has made more work. The most popular and beloved technologies in the home haven't made us more efficient--TV, for example. So the challenge for technology companies isn't to see the home as another place where we can rationalize production.
The digital home is never going to be about technology--it's about the people who live there. We have slow-moving cultural paradigms, and 'home' means something in our imaginations. In England and America, you say, 'My home is my castle.' In India, people talk metaphorically about their homes as 'pure' and the outside world as 'polluted.' In Indonesia, home means grace, modesty, and simplicity.
The things that people care about aren't changing-- we're curious, we want to be socially connected and spiritually inspired. The home is not a blank slate waiting for technology to arrive."