THE BLOG

Mom, the Selectric, and the IoT for Health

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Might Rosie the Robot boss Jane Jetson around? Could a Jeep get hacked? A so-called "smart" front door lock keep a homeowner locked out for a ransom?

A woman, Queen Anne, issued the first typewriter patent in 1714. 150 years later, the mass-market typewriter was introduced in the 1870s, a welcoming on-ramp for women seeking jobs. According to the U.S. Census, in 1910, 8 in 10 typists in the country were women. Women were entering the labor market and typing jobs were considered appropriate work. Remington, a typewriter manufacturer, designed models with women in mind -- adorned with flowers.

IBM entered business computing after WWII, competing with Remington in the typewriter market. In 1955, Big Blue filed a patent for a revolutionary "golf ball" element printing characters through a ribbon onto paper. It took over six years to bring that innovation to the market. In 1961, IBM launched the Selectric typewriter, which replaced type bars and moving carriages with a printing element, this iconic golf ball sphere, which bore all the alphabet characters, numbers and punctuation symbols.

The look of the Selectric was sexy, sleek, and sculpted. It sold at launch in 1961 for $765 - the equivalent of $6,071 in 2015 dollars.

The man behind that design was Eliot Noyes, who led corporate design at IBM beginning in the 1950s. Prior to joining IBM, Noyes was curator of industrial design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and pushed the modern design ideal of simplicity of form. He was known for his belief that "good design is good business." He led an interdisciplinary team of men through the seven-year design journey that led to the Selectric.

If you've watched Mad Men, then you're familiar with the images of Selectric machines, lined up on desks in the secretarial pool of the Sterling Cooper ad agency. In one episode, Joan said to a newly-hired secretary, "It looks complicated, but the men who designed it (and they were indeed all men) made it simple enough for a woman to use."

So simple, in fact, that by 1975 the Selectric had 75% of the US electric typewriter market.

My mother Polly was one of those women who not only used a Selectric, she delighted in it. That machine increased her typing speed to over 100 words a minute with minimal errors -- giving her a sense of competence and confidence. For a secretary, the Selectric was a status symbol, a luxury good consumed at work.

Polly loved that machine so much, she bought a used one for me from the school district where she worked. I loved that machine, too, and learned to touch-type on it.

Polly connected with that machine both in terms of her job and a high-degree of psychological satisfaction that she ultimately wanted to share with me. I'm so grateful that she did.

As it happens, Polly's connection with the IBM Selectric was a precursor to women's love of smartphones today. My mother was a champion multitasker - working woman, home maker, amazing cook, engaged wife and mother, and public health volunteer (she brought the Salk vaccine to our school district). She was an early prototype of the Chief Household Officer.

Today, all women are Chief Household Officers, and we all live technology-connected lives. We, both women and men, have evolved into the species EY called, homo informaticus in a study describing information seeking, multi-media channel consumers published last summer. This is our new normal - we are all homo informaticus, men and women.

The "Find Your Happy" study published in the online social network POPSUGAR found that women have a very positive view of the role that technology can play in helping them feel happy. 3 in 4 women like to use tech to record life's special moments. 60% of women like to use tech to set career goals for themselves, and over one-half of women like to set up personal fitness goals for themselves and track daily fitness activities.

Of course, women really, really like mobile devices and, specifically, smartphones. Time Inc. and Nuance recently surveyed women, finding that 60% say mobile phones are the most important devices in their lives - a much higher proportion than men at 43%.

Now mobile is morphing into daily living through sensor-enabled clothing, bling, cars, thermostats and appliances - the growing Internet of Things (IoT). Industry analysts forecast the smart connected white goods market to have triple digit-growth from 2015 to 2020 - think of washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, room air-conditioners and large cooking appliances. Target (near San Francisco Moscone Center) and Sears (in San Bruno, CA) opened connected home demonstration stores as they begin to bring the concept to the consumer market.

The promise of the connected home is that the connecting "things" could help manage household energy consumption, physical security, streamline daily tasks, and eventually make the home the health hub of the family for health care.

As we move into the era of and living with the Internet of Things, we are struck by the possibilities of sensors, sensors everywhere in every "thing." The Samsung CEO told us attendees at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show that by 2020, every "thing" Samsung makes will be connected to the Internet.

The value of some IoT applications will be self-evident. If you're a woman wrestling with fertility challenges, the Kindara connected device which began shipping in spring 2015 could help you get pregnant. The company believes it's helped inspire 75,000 pregnancies to-date, at a rate of about 100 pregnancies a day. This is essentially a sensor-enabled thermometer and tracking app with fertility/basal temperature algorithms behind it. A parent of an infant might value having the Mimi baby monitor linked to a Sonos speaker so when a baby cries the Sonos automatically starts generating soothing white noise. The parent of a toddler may like the Hue bulb so they can use the light's color as a way to show the child when it's okay to wake up mommy or daddy in the morning.

But most people won't spend a lot of money on connected devices until they have a good reason to do so. And the reasons for a woman to connect to an always-on device must be clear, compelling, and personally respectful.

What could be compelling? I wrote a column here in The Huffington Post called "Chief Health Officers, Women, Are in Pain." In that piece I took an inventory of health risks for women painting a picture of a gender in pain - overdosing on opioids, caregiving stress (and that's in two directions for Sandwich generation women, for children and aging parents), money and work stress, higher health costs, less access to evidence-based health care, and a frightening increase in women binge-drinking.

Technology can underpin solutions for many of these tough challenges women face. Take the growth of binge-drinking among women. In March 2015, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism launched a wearable alcohol biosensor challenge, looking for designs in jewelry, clothes or other wearable. The advent of alcohol biosensors that can be worn discreetly and used by individuals in the course of their daily lives will advance the mission of NIAAA in the arenas of research, treatment, and rehabilitation, and help people get healthy.

For women, privacy and security of personal information are paramount. In July, HP published a study on the security of data generated through ten popular brands of smartwatches - and found the risk goes beyond the device. 70% of smartwatch firmware was transmitted without encryption and data collection on the wearable passed through to an app that often sent it on to multiple destinations - third parties.

In the IoT world of the smart connected home, there are similar concerns. Recently, a Jeep was hacked. In the future, a washing machine or fridge might be hacked to send out spam emails, or a connected smart door lock might not enable entry until the homeowner pays a ransom to a smarthome hacker.

As I reflect on IoT and Chief Household Officers, I'm reminded of two women in pop culture who provide a cautionary scenario. They are Jane Jetson and Rosie the Robot, stars of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Jetsons. We want to make sure in the IoT era that "things" serve us, and we don't serve them. As the IoT world generates personal data 24x7, we want to know our data are being used in context and in the service of our own values and objectives.

As in the Jetsons episode where Rosie begins to boss Jane around, we are reminded of the importance of user-centered design and, with women the Chief Household Officers, the importance of women-centered and -informed design.

A team of men across many disciplines came together to design, prototype, manufacture and market the IBM Selectric, which empowered a generation of women to earn a living, feel empowered and successful, and even enjoy a high-end status symbol at work. As we enter the Internet of Things era, we should take a page out of Eliot Noyes's book of user-centered design, which also embraced the aesthetics of beauty, simplicity, and helping people be more productive and feeling really cool about it.