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2009: The Year Gadgets Stop Being Life Add-Ons?

I was reading about Vuzix’s new VR projection glasses–actually looking pretty snazzy, versus a prop from Star Trek–when a thought struck me. It seems that the gadget as a nice-to-have bolt-on to modern life is dead. Instead, the gadget as a ubiquitous, fully-integrated, seamless augmentation to modern life has been born, and 2009 is when the transition may become complete. Let me start with the technology.

I was reading about Vuzix’s new VR projection glasses–actually looking pretty snazzy, versus a prop from Star Trek–when a thought struck me. It seems that the gadget as a nice-to-have bolt-on to modern life is dead. Instead, the gadget as a ubiquitous, fully-integrated, seamless augmentation to modern life has been born, and 2009 is when the transition may become complete.

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Let me start with the technology.

Check out the Vuzix VR system: This once sci-fi technology promises some pretty cool personal video-experiences. It looks good, and, more importantly, it’s a real consumer product. You could slip these on when on a flight, and relax into your own private audio-visual entertainment world, and no-one would bat much of an eyelid.

Then think of the netbook. It’s a radical approach to portable computing, and centers on low-power processing, at low pricing, combined with (almost) pocketable transportability. I’ve seen hundreds of them in use in coffee shops, on trains… everywhere. Basically they’ve dramatically multiplied the number of people who’d consider using a computer outside of an office or a home environment.

Quickly think of the 3G pocket-sized mobile internet dongle. Slot it into your notebook PC and you’ve got a respectable-speed mobile internet access point pretty much everywhere there’s cellphone reception.

The iPhone, and its band of similar followers, could be the peak of current gadget integration. It’s a seamless mobile internet device, cellphone and entertainment machine in one very sleekly-designed and easy-to-use package. It lets you speak to people, google for random facts or pass the time with a game practically everywhere.

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And that’s not to mention wristwatch phones, MP3 players, games consoles, the billions of digital cameras in use, heart-rate monitors for fitness fanatics, digital photo frames, RFID door access, fingerprint car-locks, personal blood-pressure monitors…and a thousand thousand other different gizmos.

And all these gadgets are changing our behaviour, in some cases very swiftly.

In a bar last night, I watched a couple enjoying themselves for a whole hour as they reviewed their holiday photos on the back of their digital camera. A well-to-do elderly lady was tapping on her new Eee PC in a local coffee shop the other day, while I was blogging using 3G mobile internet. IM clients on the iPhone mean you can have text chats with friends while out for a stroll in the countryside. When you drive somewhere new, you don’t struggle with a map, instead you flip on the GPS. A guy in my running club takes a GPS tracker with him, and emails a record of the route afterwards. And when there’s a plane crash, the first thing many people do is flip-out their cellphone to take pictures or even, bizarrely, Twitter the event live.

Basically gadgets have become like indoor plumbing: not very long ago a luxury for many, and now ubiquitous. Less a life add-on, more a life necessity–at least in developed countries.

And in 2009 US television will go digital, there are plans for nationwide free Wi-Fi networks, cellphones will only get more capable and more multi-function, netbooks will evolve, the e-book may take off, and digital social networking will become the main method of keeping in touch for many people.

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The Gadget will become seamlessly integrated into our lives. We’re all almost cyborgs.

[Wired]

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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