'Cuddletech' emerges as the squishy alternative to a boring straight line

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 12:00am

Readers over the age of 30 may remember the legendary science-fiction aliens known as Daleks, the terrifying and remorseless adversaries of the debonair Doctor Who.

These limited conversationalists, if gifted killers, rarely said much except 'Exterminate!' and, when they were feeling expansive, 'Destroy the Doctor'. Had Doctor Who tried to divert a Dalek by asking what its favourite colour was, the Dalek would have zapped him without even bothering to answer 'charcoal'.

The point is the Daleks were not at all user-friendly. Indeed, they represented the ultimate in brutally functional machinery, forever playing on our technophobia.

That formidably devious contraption, the computer, has always aroused this kind of suspicion. Even today, it is often the case that if you let slip that you work in computing at a party, you will be treated like a proponent of human cloning.

The personal computer, which rose to prominence in the 1980s, was intended to win over the poets and artists. But, despite fitting snugly on your desktop, the PC proved just too beige and boxy to engender feelings of empathy.

Even the advent of 'plug-in and play' and the mysterious arrival of the flying toaster screensaver failed to do the trick. The PC remained something only an engineer could love.

And then, in the 1990s, along came 'cuddletech'. This means the development of friendly computers and devices which pander to our need for the appearance of warmth.

Forget beige or, for that matter, monolithic black. Cuddletech comes in a giddy spectrum of welcoming colours, from tangerine to turquoise.

Forget the straight line, that tyrannical construction devised as a means of getting from A to B and favoured by those rigid Romans. Cuddletech caters to our yearning for soft, rounded shapes which evoke the motherly affection our do-more-earn-more lives supposedly lack.

Think of the original iMac, that sculptural blob of colour which lights up the office. Think of the latest iMac, which Steve Jobs wants us to think looks like a sunflower, rather than, say, a standard lamp with an LCD screen.

In keeping with this nature theme, despite the fact that it was created by the Nazis, the Volkswagen Beetle, alias the 'Bug', represents the quintessence of touchy-feely technology and is pitched in commercials as quite adorable: 'Did you hug your Bug today?'

If not, why not? Cars in general are becoming less linear and more curvy, with the result that if you get run over by one you may feel more massaged than mauled.

If you want to experience the warmth of cuddletech in your hand, pick up either a mobile phone - complete with the Canto pop ring tone - or one of those pens that are light years removed from the biro. For instance, a variety called Sensa boasts a chubby, squishy grip meant to reduce the stress of writing. Filled with a viscous fluid called Plasmium, the Sensa is kindness incarnate to your fingers, which of course have been begging for some tender loving care.

It seems that these days any device which looks remotely like it could have a mean streak must be made to seem completely non-threatening and friendly.

Drab laptop? Make it the talk of the creche by turning it into what is technically known as a PHKL (Pink Hello Kitty Laptop). Essentially, you spray paint your model in magenta and further embellish it with assorted Hello Kitty accoutrements, including a pink feather boa stuck around the case with a hot glue gun.

As a consequence, the keys may feel sticky but, for the cuddletech aficionado, that is infinitely preferable to clean efficiency.

What next? M1A2 tanks whose armour sports a friendly floral design? Landmines which cushion your foot like a slipper before removing it? Ergonomically designed electric chairs? Give it time.

Even those erstwhile blockheads, or robots, are coming over all cosy.

Witness the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's prize offering, Kismet. Reminiscent of a Furby or a bush baby, Kismet does not do a lot but is blessed with comically large eyebrows arching over big beseeching orbs that say 'love me'.

A Dalek might actually think twice before exterminating it.

Confused by computer jargon? E-mail technopedia@scmp.com with your questions.