I am always amongst the first to snigger and scoff at what I call technical frippery. By this, I mean the sort of gadgetry that doesn’t appeal to me — at least initially — and seems rather pointless.
An example of this is when NTT Docomo released a smaller, card like ‘companion’ phone for your real phone. I can only presume that actual phones are becoming so big and heavy these days that it’s just too strenuous to take them out of your pocket to answer them, and hence you use your companion phone instead.
It’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder if governments around the world are lacing the water supply with strong drugs.
But here’s the thing. I’m a sucker for a gadget and I end up buying a lot of the technical frippery I initially scorn.
I recently bought a kettle you can control with your phone. Why would I do such a thing? And why would I spend £100 on a kettle when I could probably have got one for a tenth of that price and it would have boiled water just as efficiently? It’s because I’m their ideal customer. I like a gadget for the gadget’s sake, regardless of its actual usefulness in my life. Maybe it’s the tiny release of endorphins I get when I press ‘start’ on my phone and a few minutes late it says ‘kettle boiled’ and I go into the kitchen to make my tea.
In all honestly what real saving have I made? Very little but I like it nevertheless.
I was similarly scornful about all these Alexa, Google Home, HomePod smart speakery things. But lo and behold an Apple HomePod sits on the table next to my sofa. I play music on it a bit, it controls a couple of my lamps (small endorphin hit again when I say “Hey Siri, lights on”), I sometimes use it to add things to my shopping list and I occasionally ask it questions. Mostly I just tell it to shut up when it randomly plays some music or launches into a monologue about Kierkegaard’s view on existentialism when I haven’t even been near the words “Hey Siri”.
I blame Star Trek for that though. I’ve always wanted a Star Trek computer; one where I could just say “Computer clean the house” and an army of ‘bots’ would emerge from hidden cupboards and do just that. Yes, yes, I know you can get these floor robot-things these days but they can’t move furniture to get underneath it and they tend to get stuck banging their heads against a corner somewhere. They’re just not bright enough to be truly useful. A friend gave me one and all it really did was frighten the cat.
It reminds me a bit of Reggie Perrin (for those of you old enough to remember him) and his Grot Shop where he used to sell things like square hoops and round dice. Totally useless things but it became a hugely successful business. Maybe we’re in the Reggie Perrin era now. I didn’t get where I am today without recognising an era when I see one.
Maybe frippery is how technology starts, though. I can’t remember but maybe the iPad was frippery at first and yet now, unless you’re a programmer, committed gamer or a ‘power user’ of some sort, I believe a 12.9 inch iPad with a stand and an external keyboard is the most useful computing device a person could have.
Of course your youngsters these days probably think similarly of their phones, but they all have eyesight that works and double-jointed fingers that can traverse a digital keyboard faster that a stripper can drop her kecks.
So these tech companies may as well keep on producing frippery because they’ll always have suckers like me to buy it just for the sake of having a gadget. Sure, I’ll pour scorn on the idea for a while but after a few weeks I’ll be reaching for my credit card.
I will not under any circumstances be buying a companion phone though because that’s too daft a gadget even for me to consider.