Why Won't Nonno and Alexa Be Friends?
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | December 2020
Like many of you, I had grandparents who immigrated to the United States from the "old country." Nonno and Nonna arrived on a ship, through Ellis Island, from their small, rural town near Lake Como in Northern Italy. They arrived at a time when technological advances were on the cusp of becoming part of everyone's life. For instance:
- Nonna's favorite was the early version of the electric refrigerator. First introduced in 1927, homemakers were excited to give up their "ice boxes" that were filled with blocks of melting ice for this new-fangled wonder. Refrigerators gave them more space in the kitchen, but most importantly, kept leftover food longer. Remember that no one would throw away food during the Great Depression (1)
- As you might expect, Nonno's favorite was Henry Ford's Model T. First produced in 1908, 15 million had rolled off the assembly line in Highland Park, Michigan within two decades.
- And everyone seemed to love that marvel of marvels, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. From 600,000 at the turn of the century to almost six million in 1910, telephones exploded to 20 million by the beginning of World War II. But it wasn't until the late 1940s that phone numbers went from five digits to the seven digits we use today. (2)
And it was this jump from five to seven digits that threw my grandfather for a loop. Nonno was a shoemaker. He also played the concertina beautifully, made wonderful wines, and grew the best tomatoes you ever tasted. But technological, he was not. And patient he certainly was not. At least not when it came to the telephone. For some reason he could not wrap his mind around the fact that to make a call, he now had to dial (not touch) seven numbers instead of five. No matter how many times my father and his siblings explained the new dialing system to him, it just didn't penetrate. I often wonder what he would think today when you can make a call by simply saying, "Alexa, call…." But I don't have to wonder how the telephone got pulled out of the wall and ended up on the floor.
Like its cousins, Siri and Cortana, Alexa is one of a new generation of Voice-Activated Virtual Assistants (VAVA) that are on the cusp of transforming how we change what we are watching on our flat screens, how we remember to lock our cars, adjust the thermostat, turn off the lights, or ask a question. It is also on the cusp of transforming how we can operate our hotels – for both guests and for employees.
While VAVA is less of a novelty today and is increasingly becoming integrated into our daily lives, it is still in the early adopter stage for many – both personally and professionally. And like any new technological development, there are always pros and cons for adoption. So, let's look at what I'm calling VIVA's Top Three Cs.
It is no secret that personalization is a driving force for all consumers. To paraphrase the 1969 song popularized by Frank Sinatra, "I want it my way…" Hotel rooms can be set up so that these VIVAs mimic our own smart home features such as turning lights on or off, opening or closing window blinds, controlling the room's temperature, and even changing the television. But that is just the beginning. What about being able to access your personal playlist, your music or Netflix-type subscription services and even your Amazon Prime account? All theses by using just a voice command while you are in a resort room hundreds of miles from home.