The key to geekdom is close at hand
Of all our everyday items, none represents our society's awkward, extended straddle between the Industrial Age and the Digital Age more than the key chain.
Even the geekiest cutting-edge geek still walks around with a set of metal home-security gadgets jiggling in his pants. Sure, techie invisible openers are gaining ground, but the old-fashioned key -- developed by the Romans sometime after the ninth century -- still serves as their indispensable manual override.
On the other hand, old-timers who shun even the most pervasive tech breakthroughs -- cell phones, the Internet, digital duets between Celine Dion and Elvis -- routinely wave magical cards to enter their offices and punch keyless remotes to open their cars.
Face it, there's a technological battle royale going on inside our pockets and purses. And in such a war, the spoils will be the key chain accessory.
Twenty years ago the most popular was the rabbit's foot. Increasingly, it's becoming the rabbit's foot with a 2GB flash memory thumb drive sticking out of one end -- the Robo Rabbit's Foot.
Here, then, is just the tiniest sample of key ring accessories to consider as you, and your keys, ease into the 21st century:
Digital Photo Keychain (skymall.com, $50): This thin, square device sports a 1.4-inch screen and can hold more than 50 photos, meaning you no longer have to pare down your travel-size photo album to the one or two kids you like the most. Finally, you can annoy perfect strangers on the airplane without even having to open the overhead bin.
Keychain Solar Flashlight (thinkgeek.com, $10): Tiny flashlights on key chains are a great idea, even if pointing one at the keyhole with one hand as you position the key with the other makes you look like a hopeless drunk at 2 a.m. (OK, more of a hopeless drunk).
Unfortunately, as useful as they might be, once their batteries fade, so does our memory that they ever worked in the first place (if "replace key chain flashlight battery" ever makes it to the top of your to-do list, then someone at the group home should adjust your medication).
But this gadget solves the problem we would never bother to solve by storing and using energy from the sun -- it works at 2 a.m. this year and then works again at 2 a.m. next year. If only we could say the same thing about our hand-eye coordination.
Keyring Kite (iwantoneofthose.com, $10): If there's a 5-year-old in your life who thinks you're the coolest thing since the Cat in the Hat, then keep up appearances by picking just the right moment to pull this kite out of your key chain. That's right, it's a kite in a key chain.
This key ring attachment holds a 5-inch-long pouch that unfolds to reveal a 30-inch-long strutless, parafoil flying apparatus, complete with 100 feet of string. Of course, getting it folded back into its original traveling position might take some actual magic, but with any luck there's a 6-year-old nearby who can help you.
Next week: More key chain gadgets.