Face it. Computers are going to continue to creep into your life.
At Woodies, for instance, shoppers may now use a computer to find out on which floor the tea towels are located.
The computer is a touch-sensitive display screen that flashed information at shoppers in reponse to commands from the tips of shoppers' fingers.
"Hi," it says, like a computerized cheerleader. "I'm the Woodward & Lothrop touch 'n tell computer, helping you with fun and information. Just touch me softly and I'll tell you anything."
The terminal was installed permanently by the escalators in the main aisle at Woodward & Lothrop downtown in 1980, an experiment offering an alternative to the traditional store directory. Several old-fashioned directories remain in place in other areas of the store.
Manufactured by Information Dialogues Inc. of Minneapolis, the machine reacts not to heat or pressure but a kind of electrical discharge. The screen is broken into 32 pads, each of which has a tiny electrical charge. t
When the customer touches the screen, it releases the charge in the pad that is touched. The microprocessor inside can sense which pad has been touched, and the memory tells the machine what information to serve up next.
A customer may look at the entire program, going through about six or seven layers of information. If the computer senses a long pause in the process, it says, "You have not touched me for awhile. Please touch here to go back to what you were doing." If that doesn't happen, after awhile the computer shrugs and goes back to the beginning to wait for another customer.
"The technical problems are remarkably few," said Jim Paoletti, the technician in charge of the machine. During busy periods, such as the lunch hour, the machine is busy constantly, he said.
"From what I've been able to see, customers have reacted very well," he said. "It seems like a friendly medium to them. They seem to like playing with it."
Originally the computer was installed in the underground Metro level in November 1979 and connected with a slide projector.At that point it offered information about Christmas shops and special holiday promotions.
Now store officials conservatively estimate that 6,000 to 7,000 customers use it each week.
"When we put it in, we were the first and only department store to use something like this in the Washington area," said Joanne Steller, a spokeswoman for Woodies. "We were looking for an experimenting with a way of providing information in a fun way."
The company may use more such devices in the future.