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Gadgets--an essay.

IT'S NOT THAT IMPORTANT, BUT first maybe we should distinguish between gadgets and gizmos. According to Wikipedia, both are devices that have "a useful, specific practical purpose and function." A gizmo differs in that it has moving parts, so given the unforgiving nature of friction, a gadget is likely to last longer than a gizmo.

Gadgets are generally understood to be not very important. When you think about it, how many people would call a Jarvik heart a gadget? PDAs and yolk separators are gadgets. A mechanical heart stands between its user and eternity. It's there to give you another tomorrow--a PDA gives you tomorrow's schedule.

Gadgets are usually small and portable--something you can pull out of a pocket, impressing others the way a magician impresses when he retrieves a live dove from somewhere inside the darkness of his coat. In fact, I can imagine someone learning the language mistaking "check this out" as a generic name for electronic gadgets of all sorts.

Finally, the hallmark that elevates a gadget to a level above a "tool" or ordinary "device" is its cleverness. Or to be more correct, what we project as cleverness on the gadget. In our smug way, we view the gadget as proof of how clever we are to have created such an ingenious device. We're ingenious! This is also why many carry or wear gadgets--for basically the same reason they wear jewelry.

The Archetype

Now that we have a general outline for the definition, we need an illustration. What would serve best would be the archetypal gadget. An archetype is "a generic, idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated" (Wikipedia again). Not a prototype--a first or model version. And the archetype wouldn't just be the most expensive gadget. It would be the most ingenious portable device imaginable, one that would tempt anyone to wave their new acquisition in the faces of even strangers, exclaiming, "Check this out." And because it would serve a "useful, specific practical purpose," it probably wouldn't be designed like a digital Swiss Army Knife. Elegant solutions invariably are simple, surprising, and, well, they're elegant.

The archetypal gadget would be the most clever idea since computer networks in a design form you could carry around in a coat pocket.

You probably see a problem already. One man's yoke separator is another's useless piece of kitchen-drawer junk that has no discoverable purpose. The cell phone, thumb-drive flash storage, watches set to atomic time, the iPod, digital cameras (scratch that--they're usually gizmos), pens that photograph what they're writing so a computer can store the cursive output and translate it into digital text--these all display genius and serve useful purposes. So where are we going to find the archetype?


Well, probably within the bias of the individual purchaser. Because geeks don't wear Rolexes and captains of industry usually don't have time for extreme gaming, the archetype changes by neighborhood.

Over the years, I have looked at all sorts of gadgets from the ridiculous to the truly brilliant. There are a number that might reach archetypal status, but I'll limit this to just one device: the Nokia 770 Internet tablet.

As with all great and important gadgets, I always know where the thing is. That's because its use has become a necessary part of the routine. The break-in period for gadgets is usually buoyed with the enthusiasm created by the device's novelty. Then, if it's really worth something, it moves on to being always around.

The Nokia 770 doesn't need wires except to recharge and to sync with your PC, if you really want to do that. Otherwise, it only needs fingers and a stylus. It sniffs out wireless networks and gets you onto the Web, which it presents in the clearest screen you're likely ever to have seen: 225 dpi resolution creates output that's incredibly sharp. You can switch to full screen and zoom in and out as you move around the pages. The page images aren't the clipped versions that produce those over-the-nose pinched headaches caused by reading content on your cell phone. It has RSS and Adobe PDF readers, and there's a good e-book reader you can download free. It plays Web radio content and has a card slot to increase the small on-board memory.

How is it an archetypal kind of gadget? Well, it's wireless. It's a computer that boots up immediately if left in the on mode. If you shut it down completely, the cold boot is still very fast. You can read the pages. It's your e-mail on the kitchen table, in seconds, without taking up a place setting for your laptop. It's the answer to almost any question, with Google searches sitting on the bookshelf next to your chair in the living room. It's a wallet full of pictures of the kids and the dog in your coat pocket--actually you're more likely to show those with the slideshow program.

There are a lot of little clever solutions apart from the essential services. There's a rocker button that lets you navigate pages and a few quick menu buttons, all under your left thumb. The case protects the screen when closed, and, when open, you turn it around to slide the tablet back into it so you won't lose it.

So now that we have a working definition, what remains is the other question about gadgets. That is, how do our gadgets define us?

Michael, Castelluccio, Editor
COPYRIGHT 2007 Institute of Management Accountants
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Tech Forum
Author:Michael, Castelluccio
Publication:Strategic Finance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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