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If the fish rings, answer it

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule



If the fish rings, answer it 


By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

Ever since Ma Bell was broken up and the floodgates of innovation were opened, telephones have been turning up in the most unlikely guises.

If the fish rings, answer it.

Unless, of course, you're in the car, when you'd talk to the visor.

Seem wacky enough? It's just part of the annual craziness that surrounds the Consumer Electronics Show. Among the thousands of products exhibited here each summer are dozens that seem to have been created just for laughs and dozens more that are unintentionally funny.

Some "fun" items may not be so funny. How about a boom-box with a high-decibel microphone that allows the owner to sing along?

The fish, as you might suspect, was ringing among the show's novelty telephones. The visor would allow hands-free cellular phone use. One year the show's odd-phone champ was a $100 bill—a real $100 bill, mind you—that had just enough clear plastic around it to hold the workings of a telephone.

Another year it was a banana. It was an appealing phone, the company's brochure said.

This year's champ is a piker—a walleye, from the looks of it—that sits quietly on your desk or hangs like a trophy on your wall until it has to do its duty. And then, when it rings, you pick up the fish and talk into it. If you're hooked on that sort of thing, of course.

Another ding-a-ling idea comes from Chrysler and OKI. It's a cellular phone that fits into the visor of your new car. It doesn't have a handset and doesn't need one since the microphone on the visor is already pretty close to your mouth.

For hands-free chatting, it can't be beat—unless you're doing the odd thing and using your sun visor as a sun visor. In that case the microphone and speaker and all the buttons will be jammed up against the inside of your windshield.

As silly—the makers might say innovative—as these phones are, they can't compare in their potential for social disruption to a device from the otherwise straight-laced Seiko company.

It's called Carry-A-Tune. The innocent-sounding name hides Carry-A-Tune's real nature. It's a tape player with a powerful speaker and a built-in microphone. No, let's put it the other way around—a public address system with a tape player built into the handle. It will allow every kid to sing along with every rapper on every street corner in the country. Including yours.

This will happen LOUD. It will happen SOON.

Boom-boxes have found their partners in life. A dozen 12-year-olds with Carry-A-Tunes can carry a tune into your heart, into your skull, at any time, night or day.

There could be regional competitions. The winners could go on to Atlantic City and appear on "Geraldo."

In fairness to Seiko, we should mention that the idea for Carry-A-Tune comes not from the American boom-box but from the Japanese tavern craze called "karaoke" (kar-a-okay). Loosely translated, karaoke means "sing along in front of a crowd even if you are so embarrassed that you forget how to hold a single note."

Carry-A-Tune turns out to be a sort of half-pun on "karaoke," which will be lost on Americans. It was also lost on the Chicago model who was singing along with a Carry-A-Tune at the electronics show.

"Karaoke!" said a Japanese show-goer who wandered into the Seiko display.

"Paula Abdul," she said, correcting him.


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