Like my ragged hippie friends from the '70s who lived on rural communes growing organic vegetables and listening to Steve Hillage on state-of-the-art-back-then music systems, I've always like to think of myself as the kind of idealistic person who is not at all interested in material goods … unless they're electronic. It was the same in the '80s, when my friends and I were saving our dole money to buy Sinclair Spectrums and Atari STs. Now it is impossible to keep up the pretense that you are a spiritual person who despises consumer goods but has an interest in electronic gadgets because electronic gadgets make up the majority of consumer durables. The only thing saving me from zombie consumerism is that on occasion I can say that I own enough tech, and now is one such time (the last time was probably in 1970, when I owned a gramophone, a transistor radio, and an etch-a-sketch). To be specific, I have an excellent music system (our first major purchase after we got married and still going strong), a TV, a DVD player, a smartphone and a computer well above the capacity I really need. Last week we upgraded our satellite TV subscription to give us recording capability and so dumped the VCR, which was by this time only playing in black and white and literally creaking, thus severing one of my remaining links to the '80s (the other being my car, but that's still got a few years in it).
Of course there are things I could want if I put my mind to it, like a Blu-ray player or 3D TV, but at the moment they seem like frivolities. I mean if I won a 3D TV in a lottery, I probably wouldn't say, "Nah, you keep it, those things make my eyes go funny," but I don't spend much time thinking about the empty hole in my life that a 3D TV would fill, more like the hole in my pocket one would make. The one thing I was thinking of buying was a Kindle, given how hard it is to read books on my phone, but that would mean lifting my personal boycott of Amazon (Wikileaks and bad working conditions). Fortunately my dilemma was solved by my brother, who arrived on a visit from England and—to my surprise and delight—presented me with a tablet. The rest of the family got the usual alcohol and perfumes, but my brother and I are geeks of a feather, so it was not only a tablet, it was an Android tablet I can have fun hacking, not one of those wimpy iPad things.
So did I really need a tablet? Hell, no. Do I like having one? Hell, yes. The important thing about a tablet is not that it is an e-book reader, web browser, video player and whatnot. The important thing is that is a tricorder. It is hard to explain to anyone who didn't grow up with the original Star Trek series to explain the hunger I always felt for the three Starfleet essentials: communicator, tricorder, phaser. We now have communicators in the form of mobile phones (in fact the first flip-top phone design was lifted from Star Trek). Now we have tricorders in the form of tablets. OK, my tablet won't perform medical tests or analyse the composition of rocks yet, but that's not the point. The point is that I get to walk around with a slab of electronics and look like I'm doing important stuff with it. Now all I need is a phaser … so maybe I don't have enough technology after all.