Forget smartphones and tablets: they are just the focus of yesterday’s technologies. Real gadget freaks are now developing things that will become much more important over the next two decades. What’s more, they’re not about trivia like tweeting that you’re mayor of your local Starbucks. Tomorrow’s gadgets will help you live longer, if not forever.
One of my newer toys, for example, is a USB stick that could be mistaken for a 3G dongle. Actually, it’s a Contour USB blood glucose monitoring system from pharmaceutical giant, Bayer HealthCare. Plug it into a personal computer, insert a contour strip with a tiny drop of blood, and you get a read out in a few seconds. You could track and graph your blood sugar levels before and after meals to find out what effect they have. For people with diabetes, this could be a life-changing and potentially life-saving technology.
The next great wave of technology will bring dozens of health-monitoring gadgets that make us much more aware of what’s happening to our bodies. You may already own early examples such as high-tech bathroom scales, pedometers, and heart-rate monitors. A sign of the times is the success of the Nike + iPod Sport Kit, which lets you track things like your pace, distance, time, and calories burned, and also integrates with compatible gym equipment such as treadmills and exercise bikes.
Wouldn’t you buy something that warned you if you were about to have a heart attack, especially if it was small, cheap and very shiny? I’m looking forward to Star Trek-style Tricorders that you can point at something -- an apple, perhaps, or a double cheeseburger -- and find out by how many minutes it is statistically likely to extend or reduce your life.
There are many factors behind the trend to Health 2.0. One is that the developed countries have ageing populations, who are starting to think more about their health. Another is that healthcare is becoming very expensive: it makes financial sense to stay as fit as you can. And, of course, healthcare is becoming increasingly technological. Patients in what we now call high-dependency units (formerly known as "intensive care") are connected to lots of expensive electronic monitors. As computer chips get cheaper and more powerful, home-user versions become more practicable.
Also, times change. If you grew up in the 1950s, you probably worried about which radio to buy: mobile phones, video recorders and games consoles hadn’t even been invented. The 1960s were about TVs and hi-fis, and in the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of gadgets were based on the new CD and DVD discs. The last decade was mainly about flat-screen TVs and mobile phones. But once everybody owns something, what else is there to say?