The Spouse Acceptance Factor

I’m not sure who invented this term, SAF, but it comes up often around folks who are into new technology for the home… “sure you might want to install a media center pc, but have you taken into account the spouse acceptance factor?” or the more common, “having to restart the cable modem sure reduces the SAF”. With everything new seems to come a few annoyances, so the question is whether or not the benefits outweigh the issues… and not in your opinion, but in the opinion of the rest of the people in your house. This is an ongoing issue for me, because I have a habit of picking up new gadgets for the home.

Update: So, it seems that SAF is just the politically correct form of WAF, which has been around for quite some time… at least the 70’s according to this site:

First, I went out and picked up Tivo, back when we first moved down to the US (Tivo is not available in most of Canada)… which was accepted into the household with very few bumps. It took a little while to get used to it, my wife was asking me to schedule recordings for awhile, and it had some problems changing channels on the digital cable boxes (using IR blasters, which I am not a big fan of). Eventually we got to a point where I don’t think we would ever want to go back to life without a Tivo-like solution.

Next, I brought in my own home-grown media center like box to play all our music. Generally well accepted, but with remote control issues (a tendency to take one button press to mean 3 or 4, therefore playing music you were just trying to browse through, scrolling way farther than intended, etc..). I was never really able to fix the remote issues, but I never spent any time trying (too much work to do for my real job to be debugging my hobby project for more than a few minutes), and the system became something that only I would use.

Eventually I replaced that music pc with a ‘real’ Media Center system running the first version of Windows Media Center, and tried to get people to use it instead of Tivo as well as for music/photos… well, it worked most of the time, but we had it stowed away in a cabinet and it would occasionally (way too often for our tastes) require the user to hit a keyboard or mouse button to get past some message box or dialog… which resulted in my wife just shutting it off and using the Tivo again. Along came the most recent version of Media Center (2005) and the SAF was greatly increased… no more dialogs require the keyboard ever appeared and it seemed easier to use for many reasons. Combined with a media center extender, which brings the whole system closer to the feel of a consumer appliance, and everything seems hunky dory… kinda…

For some reason, every once in awhile I get an error while watching a show… “Content Expired” and the screen is replaced with a big message about needed to re-acquire the content (this isn’t some HBO content protection thing … this happens on normal ABC/NBC type shows recorded the night before). Pressing stop, then play, fixes the problem, but every single time it happens I get to hear “Tivo never did this, you know” (partially just to bug me, I’m sure) … and it happens a few times a week. Oh… and sometimes the media center extender just suddenly dies and says that it experienced ‘a problem’ … and needs to be reset. There are a few other issues, making it seem unreliable… which means it is currently toeing the line between being loved and being thrown out… not sure what the resolution is going to be on that one.

The final piece of ‘new tech’ in my house is the Vonage voip phone system which works very well, except when the Internet is down. This isn’t Vonage’s problem but it is a dependency and for some reason my Comcast internet seems to die for at least a few hours every week… generally right when I’m at work and my wife finally has some time to call all the various doctors and friends to set up appointments, playdates, etc… sure, it comes back in a few hours, but by then my wife has tried the phone ten times, reset and power-cycled the cable modem, etc… and whenever that happens I get the request “can we please go back to regular phone service and Tivo? I don’t need fancy features, but I need this stuff to work…. and work all the time!”.

Yesterday the phone service stopped working for an hour, when my wife was trying to call the doctor about a problem that my son is having… and then today the media center extender stopped working (I think because I had VPN’d into microsoft the night before on the media center pc, and then disconnected… but I still think that is what ended up confusing the extender) … leading my wife to compare all the new technology in our home to “being left alone with a pet that behaves itself when you are home, but then gets violent after you leave”.

As a technology junkie, this is a difficult situation for me… so now I’m considering my options… should I go back to ‘regular’ phone service (cell phones don’t work at my house, by the way… they start to die around a block from my place)? Should I get digital cable and a DVR from the cable company perhaps? Should I consider DirectTV and their DVR? Should I take advantage of the switch to get some form of HD service… only if I can get a HD DVR solution, of course…

hassle, hassle, hassle… and there are always so many choices (DirectTV vs. Cable for example) and you are generally giving something up with every choice…

Of course, this is all unimportant in the big scheme of things, but I often find it is these unimportant details that end up taking a large amount of your time … whether you are talking about that little bug in your code that causes drag and drop to not work in 1% of the cases or the decision of what type of TV signal provider to go with…

Author: Duncan Mackenzie

I'm the Developer Lead for the Channel 9 team, formerly worked on MSDN as a developer, content strategist and author.

4 thoughts on “The Spouse Acceptance Factor”

  1. Yeah it’s tough. I find myself at odds with my Media Center (2005) from time to time. It is not nearly as bad as the original release was for needing a keyboard and mouse hooked up, but every now and then you do need to type or click around in the standard windows interface and the ol’ remote just doesn’t cut it. I ended up installing VNC ( on my Media Center so I can take care of most of my non-remote input needs. Out of curiousity, what hardware are you running your Media Center on? I ended up using a Shuttle chassis with a P4 3 GHz and 512 MB of RAM, but it still seems to lag from time to time.

  2. You’ve got to give it up to TiVo on this one – their stuff just works. One of the reasons I haven’t been gung-ho on switching to HD is because there isn’t a great, reasonably priced TiVo based solution there. I’m starting to look at Myth as a potential option once I go down the HD route.

    From what I’ve heard about cable company-provided PVRs, there isn’t much to like there (with the possible exception of the Microsoft Foundation based solutions, which are supposedly OK). I’m looking forward to when the Comcast/TiVo partnership bears fruit, and we can have the best of both worlds (if you’re a Comcast customer, anyway).

  3. I thought I’d look it up on wikipedia. I didn’t find anything on SAF, but I did come across a link about “technology acceptance model”, which included a rather clinical description of the phenomenon you described:

    I did a little more digging and came across this site with mounds and mounds of research on the topic, primarily related to business:

    Steve’s wife’s refusal is poignant in the distinction between amount of understanding desired by users. In IT, the booting process is overlooked as something that is automatic and part of the process of starting a PC. It’s somewhat analogous to the checklist pilots go through at every stage of a flight. Even though everything is done automatically (find the bootsector, load the OS, etc), a software engineer (in a similar role as an airline pilot) often wants to be informed of this process when needed for their tasks. But that masks the fact that to a non-technical person this is all gobbledeegook and irrelevant to their task.
    Passengers don’t need to know how much fuel is in each wing. While all the plane setup occurs, passengers do their own relevant tasks (boarding, seating, eyeing flight attendants, feeling nervous, etc), which have nothing to do with technically being able to get the plan off the ground. When was the last time passengers were accepting of flight delays? Ground staff can tell waiting passengers the exact technical reason why a plane is 3 hours late (a plane I was to fly on once had lost its air-conditioning system and ended up being replaced by a different plane), but acceptance will not be by all. Airlines know this and have staff trained to deal with the inevitable user backlash to try and keep the customer. A lot of these “acceptance-factor” interactions apply to activity like the boot process on high-tech devices. Users don’t care why it doesn’t work. When a Media Center PC breaks down and incurs user backlash, what happens? it gets replaced (in the cases above with TiVO).

    Doing technical things like eliminating the causes of user rejection is only one step towards successful device adoption. Airlines and trains still have flight delays after 90+ years of commercial operation. The accepted (and presumedly successful) companies are the ones who get their customers to accept these problems without rejecting the service (or device).

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