Is there a need for several multi-tasking gadgets, with varying degrees of sophistication, in every single household, asks Aparna Karthikeyan

“Look what we bought!” the daughter announced, holding a shiny white tablet in her hands. “Very nice. What can it do?”, I asked her.

“Oh everything — games, net surfing, videos, emails — there's very little it can't do,” she replied, sounding like the company's official salesperson.

“What about phone calls?” I asked her. “Because, my laptop can jolly well do all of that, and probably faster…”

“No,” she looked a bit crestfallen. ‘But other than phone calls…”

“And MS Word?”

“Well, we didn't add that app, but if we did…”

By then I had lost interest in what I thought was little more than a glorified toy…

Many devices

Don't get me wrong, I'm no Luddite; I'm very happy to embrace technology, it makes life so simple, I often wonder how we got on without it. But I do have an axe to grind with gadgets that promise to be multi-tasking whizzes, whereas in reality they're just repackaged telephones/ step-down laptops. And why on earth does every household possess so many devices, all of which, more or less, do the same bunch of things?

“Yes, I agree, it seems a bit much — an ipad and a laptop all to myself,” says Menaka, mother of an 11-month-old boy. “Except, laptops are now like the television — almost everybody has one. I did dither about the iPad though, but my husband surprised me with one when he went to the U.S. on work. I was pregnant then, and really, I felt liberated; I no longer had to lug around a heavy laptop wherever I went'. Her son is now quite attached to it as well, laughs Menaka, thanks to all the kiddy stuff she's downloaded on it, and she says he loves watching videos and rhymes when they're on the go.

Bharathi has a very similar story to narrate. “In my line of work, as a 9-5 bank employee, I have never found the need for a smartphone. I've always been proud of my basic, clunky model; when other people's fancy phone batteries would die by the afternoon, mine would work for two straight days. But finally, I capitulated and bought myself a multi-tasker. And when I had a baby, I felt as if I was granted a boon; because, thanks to my phone, I just did not feel cut-off — as I really feared — from the outside world. You see, I couldn't have taken a laptop with me to the hospital; they would've laughed me out of there if I said it was to update my Facebook account. With my smartphone, I was able to upload pictures of the baby, discreetly chat with friends, make videos when Tanvi did something beyond staring at the ceiling (the day I caught her first ‘smile' on camera, I was ecstatic) and it felt very good that I did not have to depend on my husband to do all this for me….'

In Jayashree's* case, it wasn't mumsy-whimsiness that sent her smartphone shopping. “I had a hand-me-down phone that once belonged to my husband, and I was happy with it until it suddenly died on me. When I was looking around for a replacement, I fell for this mid-level smartphone. What really appealed to me was the ease at which it could multi-task. Since I like to write whenever I feel inspired — but somehow never manage to sustain interest until I get home to the laptop — this is getting me back into the habit of micro-blogging and maintaining an online diary. I write 5 or 6 lines before something slips clean out of my head, and I also take pictures of subjects that interest me. It's not DSLR quality, but it's more than enough for my blog!”

“This concept of owning ‘several-gadgets-that-do-the-same-thing' is going to be the case until there is complete convergence,” says Kannan* who's a dab hand at gadgetry. “I'm very attached to my smartphone mostly because of the portability and yes, I agree it duplicates a lot of my computer's functions. But since my job entails processing high-resolution images, I'm obliged to use a powerful laptop as well. But what with phone processors becoming exceptionally fast and packing in so many features, I think the day is not far off when phones completely replace laptops.” But until that day, when your smartphone can look pretty in a tutu and do an exotic dance with a ball of wool, you might just have to live with a houseful of devices and a basketful of chargers…

*Names changed