Steve Ranger's Notebook: The oldest gadget still wows

Better than Batman's utility belt - and it adds up too...
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Better than Batman's utility belt - and it adds up too...

Dr Who's got his sonic screwdriver and Batman's got his utility belt.

But accountants? All they need is a calculator.

But this is no ordinary calculator.

According to stories collected by calculator maker HP, over the last 25 years the gadget has helped fight crime ("I heard a 'crunch' sound, saw the motorcycle lurch forward and saw the purse drop to the ground"); survived car crashes ("Horrified, I ran back and found everything flattened and destroyed - except for my 12c!"); and helped find true love ("We still have the calculator and are still married.")

Calculator fans love the device so much HP even had a birthday party for it in New York last week (well, a cake anyway - see the photo below).

Of course, behind the cute stories and the cakes there's a serious point. This is a piece of hardware that does the job - and has done it well for 25 years.

It's a reminder of a less disposable age, where built-in obsolescence didn't come as standard.

And the tech industry is top of the league for this disposable mindset - how many pieces of hardware and software are introduced one day and then outdated by the launch of an upgrade the next? - leaving IT departments with the headache of managing continual upgrades.

I'm not saying I expect my gadgets to last 25 years. The frantic pace of development in high tech is one the most dazzling and seductive things about it.

After all, we'd all be worse off if IBM decided its first PC (also now 25 years old) was good enough and didn't really need much extra work.

But is there a case for arguing that we have too much of the wrong kind of innovation? What's more common - companies begging for a new version of an operating system or office package or grumbling because they'll have to schedule the upgrade?

I'm not sure where the balance lies. But looking at the giant cake of a quarter-century old calculator makes me wonder if we've got it right.

HP's calculator cake

HP bakes a cake for the calculator's 25th birthday
Photo credit: Steve Ranger

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