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Seth Goldstein drops down into the sleek black office chair behind his Ikea-inspired desk. Little chunks of plastic are strewn all over the tabletop, thin wires snaking around each object. It looks like a child's unkempt pile of toys, but in a more professional-looking black monochrome than the romper room colors we all remember. A few pagers, cell phones, and Palm Pilotlike instruments are carelessly placed about, the toys that are no longer fun.
"I've had a difficult week," says the 28-year-old Goldstein, who works at Flatiron Partners, the Silicon Alley venture capital firm. He describse the many different gadgets he's tried and thrown away, the flip-flopping between e-mail software Microsoft Outlook and Eudora and how neither seems to work well with his hardware. "I finally went back to Outlook for e-mail and it synchronizes well with my new devices," he says. "The problem is, if you want to be wireless, it can get messy. My moods rise and fall depending on how seamlessly connected I am."
This is a common feeling among many geek elites, or "early adopters" as they are called by those who rely on them to help the technology catch on. Early adopters are the unseen, unofficial beta testers in the gadget market. Emotionally connected to their technology, they often feel an intense need to have the newest shiny object on the market, from smartphones (a mobile phone that works like a Palm Pilot) and handheld PCs or Windows CE machines (really small laptops) to PDAs (personal digital assistants Palm Pilots and similar devices) and two-way e-mail pagers (exactly what it sounds like). Usually, they don't mind being called geeks, proudly displaying the many plastic objects on their belts, just like overstuffed pocket protectors.
"This is what it looks like when I leave the office," says Goldstein as he stands up and starts grabbing devices. He attaches his BlackBerry two-way e-mail pager, a numeric pager, a Nokia 6160 digital phone, and his Palm Pilot to his person. "And sometimes I bring my laptop home with me too."
Ken Li, 26, technology and business reporter for the New York Daily News, manages to carry his Nokia 6160, BlackBerry pager, Motorola numeric pager, NEC MobilePro 770 handheld PC, and IBM ThinkPad 560z laptop all on his skinny frame. "I also have a 1-800 number from a company called General Magic that I can use to access all my personal information on Microsoft Outlook in case I get mugged," he says. "It's a voice-operated system that allows me to access my datebook, calendar, e-mail, news, stock quotes. I mean, if you're on a desert island and there's a pay phone, at least you should know how your Amazon stock is doing."
Eric Kopeloff, 28, an independent film producer, has also gone through myriad devices, testing and exchanging gadgets to find which works best.
"I'm really a techno junkie," he confesses. "I have multiple phone lines in my apartment and a data line. I had a pager and two phones. I had a New York phone a digital one from Sprint that only worked in New York because the digital service wasn't available elsewhere and a Motorola StarTAC analog phone for when I traveled. The pager was the first thing I had and it was hard to give up since everyone had that number."
After parting with the pager and two cell phones, Kopeloff was able to settle with the Nokia 6160 digital phone through AT&T, "but I hate it," he says. "AT&T oversold their lines and I miss a lot of calls. I'm going to have to get rid of it when I find something better."
Despite the impressive array of mechanical accessories employed by the most wired people in New York, their technology doesn't always work.
"It can be a problem," sighs Li, who sometimes tests these products for review. "We're not there yet. Technology should be a walk in the woods. Invisible. I don't want to see it. I don't want to have to download, upload . . . I don't want to load anything. In the past, it was about us bending to the technology. Now, we judge technology in terms of how well it adjusts to us."
But flocking to these toys is inevitable for early adopters like Li. Why does he have so many tech tools? It all starts with, "Ooh, it's so shiny," he says. "I was always interested in technology when I was a kid. I just couldn't afford it. When you don't have enough toys when you're young, you feel like you never do."
Despite the initial superficial allure of these mechanical contrivances, there are real advantages to this Gibson-inspired terrain, as Li discovered early last month. He received an e-mail press release on his BlackBerry pager detailing a press conference for a $16 billion technology agreement between IBM and Dell.
"I got a regular page from the PR person early in the morning but I also decided to check my e-mail from my BlackBerry, just in case," he says. "The PR person sent an e-mail press release and I was able to find all the info. I just went directly to the conference instead of having to stop by the office and check my e-mail. Having the full press release with all the information was more efficient than getting it over the phone."