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Is It a Good Thing?

2 min read

Everywhere you turn these days, it looks as if we may soon be turning into the Jetsons. In the iconic American TV cartoon of the 1960s, robots prepared meals in seconds--and cleanup was a snap. Forty years after Rosie the Robot first made dinner for her Space Age family on the go, the devices she inspired are coming into being.

Via newsletter, Siemens AG informs us that it is now offering "an oven with a completely new design that's very easy to operate, remarkably energy efficient, and opens up unusual possibilities for kitchen designers."

The new liftMatic oven attaches to a wall like a cabinet. You place your uncooked food at the bottom of the unit, press a button, and the "floor" of the oven raises the food to a cooking position near the top of the oven, for maximum heating. Siemens says the liftMatic reduces baking times "by up to 30 percent." Sharp Corp., meanwhile, is pushing the health benefits of Healsio, a new oven it says cooks food by spraying it with steam superheated to 300 °C. Hitachi Home and Life Solutions says its Healthy Chef--a combination oven and microwave--uses superheated steam after heating food with microwaves, also to save cooking time.

Will these shiny new machines make us more efficient and productive? While good-living mogul Martha Stewart might think so, Ruth Schwartz Cowan, the Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, would probably disagree. Author of More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave , Cowan is best known for her research on what impact things like household appliances have had on women's work at home. Her book concludes that these appliances actually make more work for Mom, not less. And in "The Consumption Junction: A Proposal for Research Strategies in the Sociology of Technology," in The Social Construction of Technological Systems , she discusses why the criteria for "betterness" depend on who is using the technology--and why what's better from a technology maker's point of view is not necessarily better for the consumer.

Let the buyer beware.

The editorial content of IEEE Spectrum magazine does not represent official positions of the IEEE or its organizational units. Please address comments to Forum at n.hantman@ieee.org .

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