Dick Tracy’s Wrist Radio (part 2)


(Guest blogger: The Grumpy Academic)

So when I was a kid I looked forward to the Dick Tracy strip in the colour Sunday funnies supplement of the Detroit Free Press. Dick had a cool watch with a built-in radio, looked something like this (correction: exactly like this):

The label was always present. As if no one would remember what that thing was from one week to the next.

The label was always present. As if no one would remember what that thing was from one week to the next.

That wrist radio was a marvel. “Pronto,” he said. I wasn’t sure what a pronto was, but with that gizmo on his wrist, you just knew the chief was going to get him one likkety-split.

The wrist radio technology was decades away, of course. Miniaturization was the problem; it was reserved for James Bond’s buttonhole camera or the Datsun B-210. Still, putting a telephone in an odd place was old hat. Maybe old shoe, even.

Agent 86. Also reported to a "chief."

Agent 86. Also reported to a “chief.”

But getting a phone into a Timex would defeat even the engineering wizards at NASA, JPL, and Edmund Scientific. Transistors were big. Speakers were big. Yes, some kids believed you could have your own wrist radio if you were only willing to gamble a stamp. But I knew deep down, in the part of me that was beginning to distrust my own parents’ messaging about the tooth fairy and the wider adult world’s insistence that Jerry Lewis was funny and not in fact disturbing, that the wrist radio knock-offs shilled on the inside covers of comic books were as phony as the nuclear subs shilled on the inside covers of comic books:

Yeah, right. As if this was possible. Why not throw in some x-ray specs?

Yeah, right. As if this was possible. Why not throw in some x-ray specs?

God, how I wanted this!

God, how I wanted this! Rockets and missiles that fired?! Ten-day free trial?! Still do.

Anyway, the important thing about about the Dick Tracy mode of communication was that it spoiled me for everything that followed. Until they can get the cell phone into a wrist watch, I don’t want one.

But if I could get me one of these…?

Tricorder-600x336

This thing could tell you pretty much anything you wanted to know. Sort of like Ken Jennings or Yahoo! Answers.

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