My dad loves gadgets. But he only seems to actually use a handful of them. Some of his gadgets just sat in a drawer for most of their lives, like the circa 1977 “portable” TV that weighed 35 lbs. Or the “check printer” that looked like a personal organizer and was supposed to keep track of your spending. It actually printed the payment details onto your checks (kind of like how Walmart used to just ask you for a blank check, the cashier would stick it in the printer and let it print the date, amount, etc. on it). But it was so much work to use that it ended up being useless.
There was one gadget I bought him back in 1989 that he actually used all the time… the Sharp Dial Master:
It was an electronic address book, memo book and calculator. It had a staggering 8KB of memory. But the cool thing about it (at the time) was that it had a speaker on the back. You’d scroll through the address book and find the number you wanted to dial. You held the back of the device up to the microphone of the telephone handset and pressed DIAL. The device would then generate the DTMF tones and dial the number. It sounds kind of silly in today’s world of smartphones, but this was actually pretty nifty back in the late 80s.
The problem with the device was that the “UI” – such as it was – was needlessly complex. My dad, born in the late 40s, didn’t grow up with electronic devices and isn’t a “computer genius”. But if you let him play with something, he’ll figure it out pretty quickly. But he always had to have me add new numbers or edit old ones on his Dial Master. And it would take me several minutes to remember how to do it. If you have a simple device, but have to go back to the manual to remember how to do something, your UI has failed.
So yeah… my Dad was a big user of the Dial Master. Which put him in unique company. Because you know who else used the Dial Master? Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks. You might remember this scene where he and Sheriff Truman interview Laura’s beau Bobby Briggs: