"Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools." So wrote Henry David Thoreau, a long time ago, in Walden. Yet he did so— perhaps as he munched blackberries deep in the woods — even as he was utterly unaware of a day when devices like Blackberries would hold sway over their owners. He was complaining about such newfangled inventions as the steam engine.
If only Thoreau could have foreseen a future filled to bursting with whizz-bang gizmos, enticing the tech geek to fork over cash for gadgets that do things we didn't even know we needed them do.
This is the world we live in — until next year, at least. Because, to crib another quote, "technology is like a fish. The longer it stays on the shelf, the less desirable it becomes." Some of this stuff could be obsolete by the time Santa makes his rounds in 2010, but for now, at least, it's cutting edge.
The new, new thing
Sometimes technology can be sort of scary. Consider the LIVESCRIBE 2GB PULSE SMARTPEN ($169), which is described by it's creators as "like having a computer in a pen." Student in a lecture hall? Journalist doing an interview? Just tap once on the record "button" of your special notebook, and the Smartpen starts recording audio. Then — and this is the amazing part — it syncs up the audio with what you write. Tap on your notes again, and the pen replays whatever was being said at the time the words were written. You can also export the audio recordings (and note-perfect copies of your written words to a computer) for storage. The technology behind it is too complicated to get into here, but suffice to say it's remarkable for its deceptive simplicity.
Are you unimpressed by a pen that knows what you're writing? Then how about a 3D printer? It takes a lot to wow jaded technophiles in this day and age, but the CUPCAKE CNC DELUXE KIT ($950) is some next-level isht . . . The tangle of wires and plywood makes it look like something from the garage of some wacky inventor in the '50s. But this could only be made in the 21st century, and you get to make it yourself! For a smidge under a thousand bucks, the dudes at MakerBot industries will send you all the nuts and bolts and belts and pulleys and cables to construct your own digital fabricator: a thermal plastic extruder that, methodically, layer by layer, makes stuff. Sure, it's only a prototype, and sure, the stuff it spits out — small toys, gears, "some sort of dice thingy" — is mostly of limited utility. But in the not too distant future, these machines could be as omnipresent as computer printers. Don't you want to be the first on your block to have one? (Note: demand has been so great that the kits are currently out of stock, but there is a waiting list, and production is slated to ramp up soon.)