Uselessness is the new chic for gadgets

By Sarah Lazarovic

I grew up browsing at the Sharper Image (a U.S. based gizmo shop) with my dad. It was the kind of store, at its coolest in the post-yuppie years, where a dad of even modest gadget affinity could while away hours marvelling at the wonders of a post-industrial world, or their closest approximation – an automatic toenail clipper. I watched a little too much Inspector Gadget myself, so it was a perfect outing for us. With its piles of over-designed and unnecessary stuff – from massage chairs to pocket lasers to electronic office mini-golf to super-long-range walkie-talkies – there was nothing gadget-cool that couldn’t be found at the Sharper Image or Brookstone or in the pages of the deliciously unpronounceable Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue.

But did anybody ever buy anything at these stores? You could marvel at the neatness of a machine that emitted whale noises to get you to sleep, but would you actually fork over your hard-earned money to own one? These stores had tons of fancy machines designed to do things that usually didn’t need volted doing.

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