Richard Barry "IT's Like This..."

Get in touch with your inner geek: Richard Barry does a bit of soul searching...

Here's the pitch: guy walks into trendy restaurant. He's fashionably stressed and sweating just enough to keep his hair in place - though it doesn't do the head-mounted Ray-Bans much good. He moves swiftly through the busy restaurant, rousing as much interest as befits a man of his obvious importance. How do we know he's important? Because that eight pound box under his arm starts ringing and back in the eightees, when Ray-Bans were still the glasses to be seen in, if you had a mobile you simply had to be important.

It's a story we're all familiar with: geek appears with a new gadget and pretends he's playing it cool by covering it up when it announces its presence. The mobile phone set the scene. Nowadays though - particularly in the UK - it's no longer a status symbol, nor an executive toy. More an annoying requisite.

The Apple Newton was another one of those geek toyz that, initially, turned heads. Handwriting recognition was assured and anyone with a spare couple of hundred quid could nip down to one of those cool Apple Centres and pick one up. Alas ‘twas not to be and the less said about Apple's attempts at anything smart, the better.

The most ridiculous scenario of unashamed geek-indulgance I've witnessed was in a student's house in Brighton about five years ago. An infrared mouse sat quietly on a pretty ordinary looking mouse mat with its nose pointing at an ugly manilla box with more lights than an Escort MkII. Not only did it look odd but there was a delay and sometimes the pointer span off the screen only to reappear a couple of seconds later, shaking nervously.

Indeed odd.

Fast forward to the Summer 1998. Data from consumer analysts tell us 3Com's Palm has become the ubiquitous PDA the Newton always aspired to be, while the newly formed Symbian digs its significant teeth into the mobile, promising us the next generation of funky communication device. We seem to have moved on.

Indeed, some of the dubious ‘technology' we scoffed at a few years ago is going through a technological metamorphosis, spawning innovative, practical gadgets that promise to invoke the covetous nature of even the most discerning buyer, technophobes included. Its not just the gadget boyz who get to play with these new toyz - they offer real benefits for all of us. Even that mouse, using its primitive infrared design may have aided the development of current infrared technology being used by our learned cousins in the medical fraternity. Wireless hearts using IR is, apparently, just around the corner.

I now question those scathing remarks aimed at the so called "Early Adopter" whose very existence provided a constant source of damning editorial. The cerebral misfits whose intentions trod a thin line between the curious and the vain - villains or misunderstood heroes?

Surely those among us who voiced our vehement disapproval at the Early Adopters all those years ago must now bow our heads at this being. After all, it was he, who, at the risk of looking obscenely foolish dared to venture out, black box in arm to discover the failings of those early phone designs. It was he who spent a fortune on handwriting technology that didn't work. It was he who dragged enormous laptops across the Atlantic.

Little did we know that one day, many of us would come to rely on the successors to those early attempts the Early Adopter so willingly tested for us all.

I propose a toast. To all of you who spend a fortune on the latest gadgets and toyz, who fuel an industry that relies on your incessant desire to have the latest and greatest. Go forth, continue your valiant work and never again will we snigger at your efforts.

Luv you guys...