Hits of the CES Gadget Parade

CES
Attendees crowd the trade show floor during the 2015 CES, which features gizmos that have a fighting chance at capturing the interest of the shortest-attention-span generation that has ever walked the earth. Steve Marcus/Reuters

Trudging through the endless forest of beeping whatsits at the CES shindig in Las Vegas, one would do well to remember the Latin root of our unofficial national religion, i.e., consumption. “Use up,” “eat” and “waste” are the first three definitions at the Online Etymology Dictionary, meaning that a trade show whose given name is Consumer must be as devoted to innovation as it is to obsolescence. Here today, gone to the toxic waste dump later today.

Such are the ways of the digital widget world. As with fashion and film stars, each new season demands a better wireless mouse(trap), a fresh face or figure, if not both! But with props to Yogi Berra, CES is not merely “déjà vu all over again,” it’s a copy of a copy, a hall of replicants and retreads, interrupted briefly by the odd item that makes you scratch your head and think “of course—I should have thought of that!” Or alternatively, "How did they come up with that?"

As hopeless a tech fetishist as I am, it’s a mite difficult to keep one’s sense of wonder alive when hitting the five-mile mark daily, even in my remarkably comfortable Ecco loafers. But physical pain isn’t the main culprit at that point, it’s the ennui one feels passing the 53rd headphone kiosk, the 75th cellphone accessories display, or the 500th small firm from Shenzhen knocking off a knockoff and selling it for half the price of the brand name (fill in the blank). Been there, done that and threw away the logo’d T-shirts they hurl at you from the booths like Mardi Gras beads.

Mind you, I did raise my eyebrows a good several times today, jolted awake by something actually stylish and functional—like the Stir Kinetic Desk, a piece of office furniture that is heap good medicine for a sedentary generation staring at flatscreens the day long. Loaded with sensors, software and a touchscreen interface, the SKD rises noiselessly from chair level to homo erectus position when it “feels” that you’re beginning to sacrifice your sacroiliac joint to your spreadsheets. It’s not a desk, it’s a machine language angel whispering in your inner ear: "Save your spine for another romp in the park, a game of tennis, croquet even!"

At 4,000 bucks or so, this is not furniture for the faint of hard-earned, but might just save you five figures in chiropractic fees 10 years down the road. Trust me, this is the kind of high-end superfluity that I come to CES to mock, but wound up swallowing my knee-jerk skepticism and wishing I had the mad money in pocket to buy one for my office-music studio. Two hours at the computer and I am ready to push the old Life Alert button or crawl into bed to nurse my aching hip. Pathetic, I know!

Another candidate for potential ridicule wound up stirring my fancy as well. The 3Doodler is a 3-D printer housed in what looks a fat fountain pen, which melts down strips of proprietary plastic into whatever shapes you can describe in thin air or on a flat surface. While one's initial attempts at gallery quality creations will more closely resemble Kramer's Fusilli Jerry pasta  sculpture on Seinfeld, with practice one can make some flowing freehand designs, or use templates and stencils provided at the company website.

As all good gadgets come in threes, I must doff my pocket protector to the folks at Voxx Electronics and EyeSee360, whose 360fly panoramic fisheye video camera will capture anything from skydiving to birthday parties, then allow you to tweak the image to see what the other brats were doing while Junior was blowing out the candles. Mount it on your bike helmet or handlebars, and turn those boring home movies into vertigo-inducing action sequences. An attendant app allows you to shoot, edit and share your magnum opus with a wide-eyed world. The even better news? Unsuspecting subjects will not mug or fake-smile for the camera—because you needn't point it, no one knows they're even being filmed.

Hard to say which of these objets de tech will thrive in the retail jungle, but it's safe to say they're among the better candidates to at least survive for a couple of seasons. Because they fuse innovation with imagination, they have better than a fighting chance to capture the fleeting interest of the shortest attention span generation that has ever walked the Earth. I am proud to count myself among the earliest adopters of new technology and the first to give things up entirely when the first flush of fascination fades. Call me fickle, and I shall not be offended in the least. Next?