So this is what we've come to.
In the world depicted by the International Summer Consumer Electronics Show, physical activity is no longer necessary for work or pleasure. You don't have to move your legs. You don't have to move your arms. You hardly have to move your fingers. In fact, to get "results" from the thousands of gadgets on display, you barely have to use your brain.
Press a button. Play backgammon on your television set with a computer - $19.95. Press a button. Watch three different television show on your three screen TV set - $900. Press a button. Translate "Do you take travelers checks?" into Japanese or French, or German, or Spanish, or Italian - $200. (This model also computes calories.) Press a button. Turn on (or off) every light in your house - $88. Press a button. Get a digital readout of your daily horoscope - $50. Press a button. Watch "The Devil in Miss Jones" in your living room - $99 (plus the TV cassette system).
Leisure living in the '80s will be simple as long as there isn't a power blackout.
This four-day show, held in the gargantuan McCormick Place auditorium, is not where people come to buy, as they say, retail. The 60,000-plus visitors came to buy wholesale for stores in the United States and Europe. They came to see what was new in this $15-billion industry. They came to buy the products your kids will be screaming for next Christmas.
Time was when games were played on a board with plastic pieces and dice. No more. Enter the Son of Pong. Computers plug into television sets and - voila - a chess board appears on the screen in bright reds and blues and yellows. Want to play blackjack? Store a boxful of recipes? Take a course in history? There's a computer to do the job.
In simpler times, Parker Bros. invented the game of monopoly. Their newest board game is Stop Thief, with a simple computer. As the company brochure explains: "Somewhere on the playing board, a crime is committed. The players use audible clues from the Electronic Crime Scanner to track and arrest an invisible thief." The sound clue emitted from the game's computers range from footsteps to breaking glass to a rumbling subway to a shootout.
The computers, said a Parker Bros. employe, "add additional play value" to board games. They also add to the cost. Stop Thief sells for about $25. Monopoly costs about $8.
There are toys for grownups, too. One of the latest is Panasonic's Cockpit, an overhead-mounted car radio that resembles the instrument panel of a small jet. The cockpit assembly comes with a Dolby cassette deck, an FM radio, a stereo tuner and a pre-amplifier. The price? $1,000. Without speakers.
Amidst the beeps, boings, and blaps emitting from rows upon rows of displays, there also are "normal" electronic displays - "regular" things like television sets that don't do anything but play plain old television show, stereo loudspeakers that only transmit sound, CB scanners and micro-wave ovens. But that's hardly what the almost exclusively male, well-tailored, under-40 salesmen are looking for here. They want the blockbusters, the newest of the new, the one item you'll want to be the first kid on the block to have.
And so they flocked to displays like the massive setup by Texas Instruments where a man demonstrates the company's latest gadget -a type-writer-size keyboard computer-TV hookup that talks. Its potential is practically limitless, depending on the "software" created for "input," a TI company employe explained. The voice "currently" is male, he says, but the computer "is capable of synthesizing many different sounds - women, dogs, cats . . ." for $1,150, it ought to.
At $900, one offering of the Sampo Corp. of America is guaranteed to solve a classically American family dispute - assuming of course, that there still are families in this country that have only one TV set. Sampo's television has three screens - a 19-inch color, and two 5-inch black-and-whites stacked on top of one another to the right of the big screen. Either by the remote control or on the console, the viewer can watch three shows simultaneously and flip each one from large screen to a smaller one by - what else? - pressing a button.
It's only in the planning stages right now, but the Windert Watch company is working on perhaps the ultimate "consumer electronic" - a talking watch. Press a button. The watch tells you what time it is. Their main attraction right now is a $99 talking clock. Not only does it talk, it talks in four languages - English, German, French and Spanish. Press a button. It tells you the time. Set the alarm, it tells yout to get out of bed.
Whatever happened to a kiss on the cheek? CAPTION: Picture, Buyers at the International Summer Consumer Electronics Show.