A few years ago, Hewlett-Packard used a memorable television advertisement in which engineers mused about a printer that, "It will do everything but mow the lawn."

The light bulbs in the heads illuminated; the team went back to work, and voilá, the next shot showed a finger pressing a button labeled "mow," and finally there was a shot of an HP printer cutting grass.

You're not likely to get a four-speed riding printer any time soon, but this trend of devices that turn out to have other uses has a widespread impact on our daily lives.

Consider the cell phone.

What time is it? In answer to that question, a significant portion of the population will turn to the phone, not a wristwatch. The latest generation of cell phones displays the time when the phone body is closed.

Randy Johnston, a consultant who is widely known for his grasp of technology trends, says he stopped wearing a watch for just this reason. This must mean something for the sale of watches and that is probably that they become a status symbol, not a necessary timepiece, for a significant part of the population.

This is not the only data device--and let's stop talking about telephones and computers; they are all data devices--that alters how we use other electronic appliances.

I can't remember the last time I used my CD player to play CDs. I either play them in the car or on my computer while working. Having spent most of my life performing and taking music lessons, I consider my ear well-trained and I don't see a lot of difference in the sound of my computer speakers and sound system, given speaker technology these days. Besides, most of us play music as a background, which is great while we are performing a variety of tasks on the computer.

Consider the cell phone, again.

As Johnston muses, what happens as they get more sophisticated?

Think about how laptop computers are used. A significant portion are used for sending email and for Web browsing.

If a handheld device performs most of the functions that consume most of the time on a laptop, why would so many people carry laptops? Do we really want to grapple with more things to carry, especially given today's air travel security issues?

You may not be able to toast bread on your phone, or blend a Margarita with your hard drive. But who knows?

Things could look a lot different in a very short time.

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