Saturday, December 03, 2016

Plug It In

It's that time of year when the talk is all about gifts: gifts to wear, gifts to eat, gifts to play with. There are discussions as to which you should give, and which you want to receive. Reams of paper and a universe of electrons has been dispatched telling you which is the best one for your spouse, your office mate or your child whatever the age. As I sit here, 8 emails have come in in the last 10 minutes, each offering a different take on the best thing to consider. And while each has their own suggestion for gifting perfection, I can definitively report that the common thread is that it is better to buy-one-get-one-free, get 20% off or get free shipping for whatever you select.

However, with all the lists that are published purporting to guide you, there are two magic words for whatever you buy. Doesn't matter if its clothing or food, something for the house or the car. In today's universe any gift worth its wrapping has to fit on either side of a simple Venn diagram, with the real winners being those in the overlap in the middle. For just as every firm today is an information company regardless of what physical thing they make or service they provide, any present that will wow the recipient has got to be either mobile or tech, and preferably both.

For some things, this isn't too much of a stretch. Stuff related to your phone or your tablet fits the bill nicely, being it charging stations, Bluetooth accessories or cases with keyboards. That said, not all are necessary or even useful. At a recent event I was at they were giving out mini robotic screen cleaners. About the size and shape of a flattened marshmallow, you placed it on your phone or pad, turned it on, and its vibrating motor caused it to move about the screen on its felt bottom. It was supposed to remove fingerprints; it just made noise.

Just as it used to be that anything that had a handle was portable, anything is considered mobile if it fits in your pocket, regardless if you want to take it with you or not. In that same vein, anything with a cord for charging is considered tech. To be clear, plugging something in doesn't make it any more advanced than the non-electrified model, it just makes it more power hungry. There are tech gloves, tech socks and tech jackets, each purporting to keep you toastier by carrying a power pack that feeds a network of heating wires. Long before portable phone and home computers were a common thing I had a similar pair of socks with an attached battery pack. I didn't get warm tootsies; I got burnt toes. They were no more high tech than an electric blanket.

But even when something nominally is both mobile and tech, it can merely be novel without being cutting edge. Advertised this season as a "Futuristic Find" is a 3D pen. Filled with a meltable plastic filament, you plug it in and then slowly drip melted plastic layer upon layer, kind of like dripping candle wax on your dining room table. Yes, it has a cord. Yes, you can use it anywhere. Yes, it enables you to create multi-dimensional structures. And yes, it will be impossible to get the goo off of your clothes when you drip it on them. Hi tech? No. High chance of injury and disappointment? Yes.

There's almost nothing that can't be said fit the bill even if it doesn't. There's a brush with LED lights in it, supposedly to help grow and nourish hair, but which really just allows you to groom in the dark. There's a cordless wine bottle opener, because twisting is so analog. And an electronic S'mores maker is really just a high temperature hair dryer with a graham cracker sized holder attached.

As they say about many things, if you haven't seen it it's new to you. So go ahead and give your husband a grill-cleaning robot. Or maybe your mom would like an aroma alarm clock. And someone you know needs a Bluetooth-connected toothbrush, though I don't know why. Or as Douglas Adams said, "We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works."


Marc Wollin of Bedford wants simpler stuff. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and Online, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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