O CarAccording to the experts, there was very little or nothing particularly new at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show.  Well, pooh on you, you jaded roosters – I found it plenty fascinating.

It’s not just the whole tablet thing, although there’s more than enough variation to keep us occupied for at least another year.  We’ve got tablets that slide out and tablets that dock in, tablets that swivel and flip and connect.  (Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they came up with a tablet that could dance.)  But aside from all the tablets, and the obvious implications for readers on the digital book market, one thing struck me in general: The In Death reality is a lot closer than I thought.

For those who aren’t familiar with J.D. Robb’s In Death series, it depicts a world fifty years in the future, where there are autochefs and robot servants, handheld audio/visual communication devices, lots of synthetic foods, weird and wacky cars;  in short, everything that could be touched by technology has been touched, and possibly enhanced.

But hang on a second.  That’s not the future; that’s the present.  We don’t have an autochef, but now there are apps that track your refrigerator’s contents and tell you what’s going off.  And we don’t yet have robot butlers and security guards, but Japan has a robot that helps elderly customers with their shopping.  Kinect is just about as sci-fi as they get, and the CES also unveiled the latest upgrade to Pleo, the robot dinosaur pet, which senses temperature and motion.

Equally cool on my list: Teknion’s Charging Lamp, which incorporates the magnetic charging pad into the base of the lamp, and which by extension could be enlarged into an entire desk surface.   Apps to navigate and drive your car.  And this device which I’d just heard of: A 3D printer.  Frankly, even five years ago much of this would be have totally off the wall.  Now, it’s just around the corner.

Of course, none of this really matters in the long run.  One of Ms. Robb’s points in the In Death series (one that is hammered over and over again) is that human nature never changes, despite all the technological advances in the world.  There’s always something bigger and better, or faster and stronger than the latest doohicky.  And don’t novels always tell us that technology is no match for basic human emotions?

No argument here.  All these gadgets do is make life simpler, or more interesting.  The possibilities are endless, and make no mistake, I think they’re ultra cool.  But could we do without them?  You bet.

– Jean AAR

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