Passing from the popular scene without much fanfare is the VCR. Japan’s Funai Electronics has announced it will stop making the machines because it has difficulty finding parts and because sales are on a sharp decline. In its heyday, Funai sold up to 1.5 million units annually. In 2015 that number shrank to 750,000. (“Byte: What’s new in tech,” The Week, August 5, 2016 pg. 18.) Its initial success stemmed from the convenience it provided, allowing viewers to watch movies in the comfort of their homes. Inevitably, however, new technologies like DVDs and streaming drove the old technology out.
A similar change is on the horizon for the retail customer. Macy’s has teamed up with IBM’s brainy computer Watson to serve in-store customers with robots. “Macy’s on Call.” (Ibid pg. 18.) No more searching for a clerk, the robot will be close at hand and ready to provide details about merchandise. One pundit predicts that in the not too distant future, 92% of retail clerks are destined to lose their jobs. (Ibid pg. 18.)
My recent brush with Amazon leaves me with mixed feelings about the rise of retail robots. (Blog 7/26/16) Like most people, I hate the robo menu I must hurdle when I make a call to get service from a large company. On the other hand, if I am successful, the person sometimes knows less than the robot. If program developers are looking for the holy grail of customer satisfaction, I suspect they will be staring into computer screens for a long, long time.
Certainly, Twitter, a company for which I see no earthly purpose, is short on customer satisfaction. Because anyone can communicate with anyone else without the restraints required by other social networks, cyber bullying is far from unusual. Writer Dave Alba say the company is aware of the problem but is “hesitant to ban users from the site because it desperately needs to keep growing.” (“Twitter Struggles with hate campaigns,” by Dave Alba, The Week, August 3, 2016, pg. 18.)
Changes in technology alter the way we interface. Some of those changes are good. Some are bad. The VCR was one of the good guys. It allowed me to crash on my sofa and watch Gone with the Wind as often as I liked. Like the Dodo bird, it seems fitting to pause to note its extinction.