The big problem with gadgets announced at hype-fests like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – besides the tendency for them to not yet exist or, if they do, be impossibly complex or too expensive to use – is that they assume even non-geeks will be willing to buy and actually use something that requires them to change even their most basic habits.
Go camping with Boy Scouts and, in addition to the contraband stashes of fireworks, tiny projectile weapons like crossbows or slingshots, knives many times too large to qualify under the four-inch-limit rule and lighters that work more like blowtorches than campfire-sparkers, you see a lot of those little red pocket knives.
A lot of the kids, and the parent they grudgingly allowed to tag along, carry little Swiss Army Knives out of habit or the need to have a tool more suited than a door key to help drive a screw, pry something out of a chunk of wood or remove a splinter.
Most don't even consider the little Swiss folders to be knives. For a 14-year-old boy cut loose in the woods with permission to cut things without asking first, nothing qualifies as a "knife" that wouldn’t look perfectly appropriate as key prop movies about goth serial killers.
The dads, who got in the habit of carrying them from their dads, take them so much for granted I've heard more than one complaining about having forgotten to bring a knife or axe or spoon or any other useful thing, while trying to split a bagel, spread peanut butter or slice dice and julienne dinner using a little Swiss with a two-inch blade, scissors and bottle-opener/screw driver.
"This is nothing; don't even know why I still carry it. Just a toy; not even a good screwdriver."
Victorinox announced a version at CES yesterday that makes itself an even better urban survival tool by including a fingernail file, combination LED light/laser pointer and a USB flash drive with as much as an entire terabyte of storage to stick in your pocket with the rest of the things you carry habitually without ever thinking about doing it.
There are versions with 64GB, 128GB and 256GB sticks, each of which comes with an alternative knife body so you can leave the pointy parts at home before trying to board a plane.
That's smart design, both for a knife and for a portable computing tool.
During the last decade wristwatches went from being the most sophisticated device most people carry with them to an extraneous bit of weight because their voice-communications options are lousy and cell phones provide more accurate time.
Despite the vastly improved power and storage in cell phones, though, there are all kinds of reasons to not want to store a lot of data on something you might loan out so a nosey friend can make a call, leave behind in the airport or have hacked and gutted by wardriving hackers while you're playing Angry Birds in Starbucks.
Carrying around the few gigabytes, or few hundred gigabytes, or few hundred GB and stick-based functioning OS around with you is a good idea because many let you operate on a public computer as if it's your own private PC at home, but only if you consistently remember to bring the stick along with you.
For most of us, carrying things is strictly a matter of habit. If you haven't carried a thumb drive in your pocket for years, it will take years to get so used to carrying one that you don't forget it every time you have to use it.
Making your portable data platform part of another object you carry habitually eliminates the need to download your data from a cloud account, the risk of both putting your data in the cloud and downloading it on what might be a compromised PC connection and allows you to use whatever encryption or concealment technique you prefer, without having to make any changes to a public PC other than to plug in your little Swiss.
If you don't carry something like one of the little Victorinoxes (I don't and never have), it doesn't help much to have a resource you could really use attached to a device you don't carry.
For the millions who do carry them – or other bits of pocket-junk like them – adding memory or connectivity to something that's always at hand is the simplest way to take data along without the need for additional gadgets, dealing with learning curves, or waiting for slow downloads of big data from the cloud.
They also reduce the probability that, even end up leaving your phone or tablet or laptop or other BYOD high-mobility personal computing device behind at home or in a cab or in the airport, the only thing you'll lose is the last few bits of freeware you downloaded, not the bank, medical and work records you keep on the little Swiss that lives in your pocket.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.