But this revelation should come as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention. In the 1966 spy spoof " Our Man Flint," James Coburn turned down the offer of a briefcase full of devices, preferring his own feature-packed gadget: a cigarette lighter with 82 different functions; "83 if you want to light a cigar," Flint observed in the film. And isn't the image of a sleek, sophisticated, lightly kitted spy more attractive than the cumbersome Inspector Gadgets that technology marketers have been trying to turn us into? But this is more than just an argument over plain versus pleated fronts; we're racing headlong back to minimalism: fueled by lack of money and a fascination with deeply layered, highly capable devices.
Technology marketers effectively sold us on the concept that we'd all be happier with piles of stuff that became obsolete as soon as the box was opened, effectively turning us into a society of disposable tech, man-cave-dwelling pack rats. The rush to fill ARM-leveraged McMansions with more remotes and devices than the over-leveraged guy next door did little but populate landfills. By the time we had finished reading an owner's manual for a device, it was time to buy a new one. And Circuit City, Best Buy and Tiger Direct made sure that we could afford it -- on 12 months, same as cash, no-interest payment plans. You gotta have the newest stuff: the nerd with the funky glasses who suddenly has the girl in the slinky dress said so!
Cisco's execution of the Flip phone doesn't indicate that the gadget bubble is bursting, but it's sprung a serious slow leak. And that's a good thing. Do we really need a GPS when we can have one built into a car or can use any of the navigation services available from the major carriers on our phone? The death of the Flip is another easy one: just try finding a phone without some kind of camera onboard. The images may be blurry and murky -- but so are memories! Location tracking? Web browsing? Standard issue these days. And watch out, DVD and Blu-ray players -- who is going to want to deal with miniature Frisbees when every movie will be available online, streaming to a device or vehicle near you?
Not only does this trend free up ports on power strips -- it saves power, makes more space in the recycling bin and eliminates the need to upgrade anything -- except your phone or car, of course. But this move to single-source ubiquity could have a dark lining. In 1967, James Coburn starred as Dr. Sidney Schaefer in " The President's Analyst" and uncovered a diabolical plot at the film's end: a plan by The Phone Company to implant a chip in everyone's head and assign the population of the world a number for life. One device, one bill, one customer: till death do contract part. Yesterday's science fiction is today's business plan. Just look at the controversy surrounding the iPhone's tracking capabilities; the conversation's already begun. Will the ironic price for all this consolidation ultimately be a lack of new product and hardware innovation as software and apps begin to dominate the market? Not if technology marketers have anything to say about it -- they'll let go of that remote when it's pulled from their cold, dead hands!