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Katy Burns

Katy Burns: Marching proudly back to the future!

Woohoo! They said it couldn’t be done – in fact they said it for 67 years, ever since it was a fanciful gleam in cartoonist Chester Gould’s eye – but by gum Samsung has done it! Once again the powerhouse South Korean company has forged ahead of the competition.

Or maybe forged back from the competition? Providing, of course, that one can forge back rather than forward. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not sure what “forge” even means in this instance. But that’s a quibble, a momentary diversion.

The big, really big news is that Samsung has thrilled the world by inventing – ta da! – the Dick Tracy wrist radio watch! Back, way back, to the future I guess.

Okay, Tracy’s new gadget was a two-way wrist radio, while Samsung is calling its latest entry into the high-tech world of unnecessary toys the Galaxy Gear watch. I understand that the whole concept of “gear” is very hot these days. I guess it sounds so much more upscale and 21st century than “gadget.” But what do I know? I’m essentially a 20th-century gal. (See what I mean? What self-respecting 21st-century woman uses the word “gal,” for heaven’s sake?)

Where was I? Oh, yes, the wondrous new gimmick from the brilliant scientists at Samsung who presumably said to one another, well, somebody out there really should invent a better mousetrap, one which perhaps escorts the mouse, unhurt, from the house. But us? Hey, we’ve got a two-way wrist radio to patent!

Okay, okay, technically not just a wrist radio.

It is its 21st-century equivalent, a smartwatch, and, we’re told by the website, will finally kick off “the smartwatch race” with a device that “lets users make phone calls, shop on the internet and slyly capture photos directly from their wrists.” Uh, “slyly”? Shouldn’t that maybe be “sneakily”? And are we really ready for some galoot to start thrusting his wrist hither and yon snapping clandestine photos of whatever or whoever strikes his fancy?

But you no doubt have a lot of other questions, such as – if you are relatively young – “Who the heck is Dick Tracy?” Well, Dick Tracy is an excessively square-jawed comic strip detective hero, first introduced by the aforementioned Chester Gould, in 1931. Tracy spent his days fighting crime, most commonly perpetuated by the likes of Flattop, whose head was indeed like an aircraft carrier, as one writer said, and the evil chemist and Nazi spy Pruneface, whose face looked like, well, a prune.

Tracy’s great love was Tess Trueheart, whom he finally married after a turbulent 18-year courtship. They eventually had a daughter, Bonnie Braids. Other memorable characters included the Plenty family – Bob Oscar (“B.O.”), his wife Gravel Gertie and their lovely daughter Sparkle Plenty.

Face it. They just don’t write comic strips – or, if you’d prefer, graphic novels – with names like those in them anymore.

The “Dick Tracy” strip’s heyday was probably in the ’40s and ’50s. Amazingly, it’s still limping along, although God only knows where – or why. But the two-way wrist radio it introduced in 1946 is having a rebirth.

The radio was, the sages at Wikipedia wrote, a “seminal” device that rejuvenated the strip. People were more easily thrilled in the ’40s. Later the watch morphed into a two-way wrist TV.

And now that we’ve established the history and importance of Dick Tracy in American culture, we can move on to another question: Why on earth would any sane person want to wear a small computer – because that’s what this really is – on his or her wrist?

I confess I write as one who dislikes wristwatches. I do have one – it’s rude to keep accosting strangers to ask them the time – but I don’t actually like it. It seems somehow constricting. And it constantly gets in the way, particularly if I’m working in the kitchen or in the garden. So it’s more likely to be found not on my wrist, getting in the way, but looped over the kitchen pepper mill, where I discovered it fits perfectly nicely.

And I always know where to find it. As opposed to, say, my glasses. Or my keys. Neither of which fits neatly over a pepper mill.

What was I saying? Oh, right: If wearing a perfectly ordinary small wristwatch is a complete pain, imagine strapping something the size of a tiny computer on that same wrist. The likelihood of disaster, I would think, is perilously high. “Hey, watch that dishwater . . .! Oops.” Or “Sorry, my Galaxy Gear seems to have got tangled in your hair/fishing line/golf clubs.” The possibilities for awkward encounters are endless.

And perhaps the most important question of all is this: Why on earth do we need a watch with a telephone, a little screen and internet surfing capabilities? Do we really have to be able to text from our wrists as we wander the grocery store aisles? To scroll through the latest stock market statistics while we pump gas? Or check the latest Kardashian scandal on TMZ while we’re fastening little Oliver into his approved car seat?

People, people, people! Consider carefully and ask yourselves honestly – do you really and truly need a little computer on your wrist? Especially since it will, inevitably, get bigger and bigger, until you are getting regular shoulder, elbow and wrist therapy to cope with the strain of lugging it around?

You do? Oh, okay.

Then let me tell you what else you might want. In the 1960s, Gould equipped Tracy et al. with the Space Coupe, a spacecraft with a magnetic propulsion system capable of taking people on short trips to the moon.

Hey, Samsung inventors and others: Are you listening?

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

Legacy Comments2

I'm assuming one could read your column on the new galaxy gear. (or, not)

GWTW, I was expecting some liberal warmongering on Katy's column today.

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