Gadgets

The problem with CES and ‘MommyTech’

Above: Whirlpool's idea of "MommyTech."

Image Credit: J. O'Dell / VentureBeat

CES 2014

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LAS VEGAS — In my final hours at the 2014 International CES, I’m poking around the MommyTech TechZone — the designated pink-collar show floor at the Venetian.

Other TechZones include robotics and education technologies. This one intrigued me more, however, simply because of its name: What, in fact, is MommyTech?

“What do they have there, the latest breast pumps?” a colleague wondered aloud in the still, dry air of the press room.

That suggestion seemed more to the point than a lot of the applications and gadgets I ended up seeing — at least at first. Because when you identify a woman as a mom and only as a mom, you have to strip away a lot of other aspects of her life. She might be a gamer or a traveler or an employee or a smoker, but in this section of CES, she’s a mom first.

So the gadgets and accessories should speak to the stuff only a mom does, right? If you take away all the presumably dual-parenting tasks like carpooling and caregiving and household management, that leaves … breast pumps.

Of course, CES takes the more antiquated, sexist view that co-parenting isn’t actually a thing, and moms are, for the purposes of this show, positioned squarely in the kitchen with a baby monitor on the counter and a toddler with an iPad on the floor.

Literally. The largest booth in the zone is a kitchen/dining room/laundry room, courtesy of Whirlpool. There, a model presides over an immaculately set table next to a range of ranges. Washer-dryer sets occupy another corner, and attendees curiously peer into a large refrigerator on the opposite wall. It also has a decorative display of neon-stickered microwaves that are much too small for an ordinary, full-size kitchen.

Were these microwaves made for college students, I asked a booth rep. She told me they were and launched into a quick list of their features and benefits.

So, if these were for young adults and the other appliances were presumably for the use of the entire family, why call it “MommyTech”?

“We do purposeful technology,” the rep said, noting that none of these items were prototypes or dreams for the future. I had and still have no clue how that statement related to the question at hand, but the spokesperson continued.

“The mom makes a lot of the family purchases” — a marketing maxim that would get worn on on this day — “and the mom is responsible for these tasks.

Well, there you have it. Sorry, Mom. You’re going to be stuck in your dream kitchen for a while if Whirlpool and CES have anything to say about it.

Most of the rest of the MommyTech exhibitors were in the same camp — let’s keep moms cooking, cleaning, and caregiving, but let’s try to make cooking, cleaning, and caregiving more modern and fun.

One exhibitor, smart home lock system SimpliciKey, told me, “We designed this lock with busy moms in mind. Her hands are full, she’s holding onto groceries, she’s got a baby in one arm, and if anyone deserves to go keyless, it’s Mom.”

Holy crap. The poor woman. She doesn’t need a keyless entry system — she needs a co-parenting partner.

“The response we’ve gotten from dads is that it’s cool but not necessarily something they need,” the SimpliciKey rep continued. “We see the mom as someone who can appreciate its utility.”

Netgear sold us a similar scenario along with the Wi-Fi hotspot the company was peddling in the MommyTech zone.

The idea, the spokesperson explained, is that the mom is driving kids around, waiting to pick kids up, trying to get everything done “on the go” because she’s so busy she can’t wait until she gets home to do her computing. Netgear’s mom also has a job in addition to soccer-age kids; dad, the rep said, gets a different pitch because he’s not “the hub of the family.”

(Chin up, Dad. Your day will come.)

Can you even imagine a two-mom household in this version of reality? Both of them standing at the door at 6 p.m. with baguettes, celery, and mewling, colicky infants, each secretly wondering if lesbianism was really all it’s cracked up to be.

Altogether, making tech for this kind of mom sounds about as idiotic as bedazzling a mop handle. But beyond the white picket fence of the American Dream family home, Mom still is responsible for a lot of those tasks, whether she likes it or not. Sexist or not, that’s our culture.

Heck, I’m not a mom (except in the dog-parent sense), but I’m still seemingly responsible for stuff like dinner and housekeeping and planning outings. If I don’t do it myself, I’m responsible for delegating it. And if you’ll take a trip with me down Women’s Studies Lane, that means I work harder at home, which takes time away from my real job, which means I sometimes miss opportunities or stories, which means I probably make less money than if I were a childless man-machine, or even a dad.

And, forgive me, Ms. Gloria Steinem, I actually really like cooking and hosting dinners and all that Donna Reed bullcrap. Like I said, that’s our culture.

So don’t let’s look to CES to break any real ground in gadgetry, let alone gender roles. Here and now, Mommie Dearest gets bedazzled headphones and a child-proof iPhone case and a polka dot washer-dryer set.

Maybe in years to come, CES can pull its head out of its butt just long enough to rename this zone FamilyTech — and maybe even create another zone called LadyTech, which is surely inviting overt sexism the likes of which we don’t encounter nearly enough around here. (We secretly love getting those pitches because they are hilarious.)

So, here’s a photo-tour of MommyTech. Enjoy.


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