First came the pager. Then came the cell phone. Then the PalmPilot. And more electronic handheld devices are on the way--GPS receiver, MP3 player, wireless-Web-enabled cell phone, you name it.

This has created a space crisis for millions of Americans: Where do you put all this stuff? If all these gadgets are so handy that you can't leave home without them, where do you stow them when you do leave home?

Consider the example of Dave Farber, chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission, professor of telecommunications at the University of Pennsylvania and revered guru to Internet vets.

"I carry a cell phone, a two-way pager, a Pilot--the Palm IIIc, the color one--and every once a while I carry one other--what is it? Keys," he said. (Actually, he clarified, that's two cell phones, one Bell Atlantic and the other AT&T.) Belt space is an important consideration, since he finds "pockets are a pain in the neck."

He outlined a typical distribution: "Two-way pager in the back right, the Palm in the left front, the telephone in the right front and the other telephone wherever I fit it, and the keys in the belt hook."

That's one option, and the profusion of holsters available for cell phones testifies to how popular it is. Otherwise, there are pockets, whether on pants or in a jacket, or bags. (I should note that this discussion involves certain issues of fashion that, as a practicing newspaper journalist, I feel poorly qualified to assess.)

A briefcase works great for toting around things, but just try taking one on a date on a Saturday night. (No, I haven't, but I can't see how it would be a good idea.) Women theoretically have an advantage by being able to stuff everything in a purse that can be carried on weekends without incurring social stigma, but there are still weight and volume limits to consider.

My own daily consumer-electronics cargo, for what it's worth, involves a cell phone--a Qualcomm "Thin Phone," which I bought precisely because it was so thin--and an increasingly battered Palm III. I usually carry both in the front pants pockets: Palm on the left, phone on the right. It's not an entirely satisfactory solution; the Palm accumulates lint on the screen, and adding the phone to the keys makes for a little too much clutter in the right.

When it's possible, I'll carry either or both in jacket pockets, where their bulk isn't as noticeable and I have a better chance of hearing the phone. Shirt pockets don't work for me; the phone is almost small enough, but it's also a little too vulnerable to falling out.

The one thing I won't do is strap on a holster of any kind. I'm not interested in looking act like a wired Wyatt Earp.

The fashion industry is trying to find work-arounds for this problem. Cargo pants are one example, although I've yet to see a pair that would count as "business casual." Another option for some of us: purses with bike-messenger-style holders in the strap, or separate phone pouches hanging from the side like consumer-electronics lifeboats.

But the ultimate solution will have to come from the people actually making the gadgets. Both a cell phone and a handheld organizer have an LCD screen, buttons, a speaker and a computer chip inside; losing either one tends to reduce the owner to apoplexy. So why not fuse the two?

Unfortunately, the consumer-electronics industry has botched every opportunity to date. Way back in 1994, IBM and BellSouth came out with a gadget called the Simon, which fused a cell phone with a personal digital assistant. It looked cool but had no easy way of taking text input, weighed too much, cost $899 and sank like a cement block within months. Subsequent attempts have not done much better--for instance, Nokia's 9000 Communicator or Qualcomm's pdQ SmartPhone. Perhaps the most successful examples to date have been data-capable pagers from Motorola and others, which combine some fairly slick wireless-data access with a decent set of personal-data-management tools--but they also offer no way to talk and have little third-party software to play with.

"What you're seeing, and what you have seen for the last couple of years, is an industry kind of trying to figure it out," said Jane Zweig, executive vice president at Herschel Shosteck Associates, a wireless-industry research firm in Wheaton. She pointed to the pdQ, a brick of a device that fuses last year's model of Palm with Qualcomm's wireless technology in a package the size of a 1993-vintage cell phone, as an example of what not to do: "It's awkward; it's not great as a phone, and it's not great as a data device."

The latest crop of wireless-Web phones have added new capabilities, but also new problems. The monthly fees charged by Bell Atlantic Mobile and Sprint PCS are too high (my favored form of wireless Internet is to pick up the phone and call somebody sitting in front of a computer, then ask them to look up something for me), the screens are too small and too dull, and the content is pretty sparse.

If this conundrum is ever going to be resolved, a few things seem clear. One, the all-in-one gadget--whether it's a computer that's also a phone, or a phone that's also a computer--can't be any bigger than what we already have now. Two, it can't use the traditional phone data-entry methods--pressing the "2" button once for "A," twice for "B" and three times for "C" won't work for entering one's schedule. Three, the display ought to evolve downward from the reasonably sharp displays on handheld organizers, not upwards from the four- or five-line LCDs on phones. Four, it shouldn't cost more than the combined prices of a phone and a handheld organizer.

This may be impossible. "I think that for the foreseeable future, most people are going to carry around multiple devices," said Mark Lowenstein, executive vice president at the Yankee Group, a research firm in Boston. In that context, the ability to communicate is more important than the ability to play SimCity: "The device that people carry all the time is a pager. Next is a phone, next is the organizer."

Zweig's bet is also against any one do-everything device. "There's going to be a whole range of information devices to do lots of different things for people as they need them and want them." This might mean nothing extra at all: "Sometimes you just want to use a phone."

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at