To turn “Would I buy that?” to “Who would buy that?”, flip through SkyMall magazine.
The 21-year-old catalog has taunted me for years. Usually I leave it untouched in the seat pocket in front of me. But when it’s time to turn off the Kindle on takeoff and landing, I can’t help myself. I slide it out, open the cover, and sink into the latest chronicle of American consumer madness.
To be fair, there is a lot of cool stuff in the 2011 holiday issue of SkyMall — particularly for geeks. Dragon Dictation, for one. A “magic” wand you can train to replace your TV remote. And those LiveScribe pens. Want.
“I actually bought all my presents out of SkyMall one year. There are some cool things,” social media geek Karianne Stinson shared on Facebook. “I’d have to lean toward the cool category, added Seattle P-I photo geek Josh Trujillo. “Some weird stuff but also gift possibilities that recipients will not forget.”
And yet the Web has no shortage of jabs for the choicest bits of a catalog that boasts the “healthiest deep fryer,” something that can “reduce inches and tone skin without diet or exercise” and this frightful thing. To her credit, SkyMall CEO Christine Aguilera (Google her and you will get the singer) embraced the silliness in a 2009 interview with the New York Times. Her favorite top-selling product? The keep-your-distance bug vacuum.
Lapses in presentation as well as product haven’t escaped notice, even here in Seattle. The Penny Arcade guys had a little fun at the catalog’s expense with that floor-to-ceiling crossword puzzle and other SkyMall classics. In August, Seattle restauranteur Brian Canlis beat me to a tweet about a full-page ad for dental services that seemed in so many ways a joke.
“Saw this ad on the airplane and couldn’t stop laughing,” he wrote. “Why is the dentist playing the piano?”
Laughs come easier in some categories than others. Health. Home and garden. Pets. But even the nerdiest geeky stuff can be a little bit painful.
Just for fun, here are eight techie items from the 2011 holiday catalog that made me cringe, and the sometimes crude reasons why. Forgive me, and enjoy:
- TV listener stereo headset for personal volume control. SkyMall lists a few ugly things to put on your head, from an old portable cooling systen to head and eye massager and this clunky enabler of passive-aggressive behavior. If you have bad hearing, I get it. If it’s anything else, work on it. TV is only so social. Don’t retreat.
- Magic Showerheads for multi-color showers: I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thought of red and green water as spa-like or relaxing. More like medical and toxic.
- ClearKey keyboard pads to cushion nail impact. I appreciate this as a simple solution, but do we actually have this problem? Are offices plagued with the sounds of so many typists clacking away with long fingernails? I thought that died with bad subtly sexist 90s business movies. Or that it never existed. Ladies, long-nailed typing can’t be comfortable. Right. Right?
- Wristband phone holder. The first of two categories of products that would have made Steve Jobs #facepalm. He and Jonathan Ive didn’t work that hard so the iPhone wouldn’t be held. Again, if this is a physical aid, I get it. If it’s for while you exercise, OK. Maybe. Otherwise, I don’t know who would be caught dead wearing this. Guess it’s good they include this clarification at the end of the description: “iPhone not included.”
- Atari Arcade and iCade Arvade for iPad. Nice nostalgic accessories with appeal as novelty gifts for true geeks. Sure. But this is an iPad. Touching the screen is the whole point. If you’re going to pay $150 for the iCade, you might as well find an old system on eBay and save yourself the time warp.
- Hidden cameras galore: Flip through SkyMall often enough and you start to think everyone wants to spy on everyone all the time. Big on suspicion? SkyMall has you covered with video pens, video watches, video USB sticks, video keychains and the Tracking Key, an awful thing you can put on someone’s car to know where they’re going. “Is my teenager speeding? Where is my spouse going? Where are my employees driving?” Ew. Pass.
- Password Vault: Particularly in the cloud computing age, isn’t storing all your passwords on one password-protected device you take with you and could easily lose kind of the wrong way to do it?
- StarScreen Social Backdrops for video chat: I get this is supposed to be a bit of a joke item, but does it matter so much if the backgrounds on our webcams are just a bedroom wall, a poster, a window? Isn’t the appeal of the home web cam that it’s casual and human, with no pretention of being on stage? Oh wait. I forgot about every YouTube self-promoter known to man. Never mind.