My Awkward Attempts to Design A Hands-free Phone

For this Friday’s Museum of Possibilities, I risk ridicule by sharing my past attempts to create a hands-free phone.

Working for nearly twenty years at a metropolitan newspaper, I watched reporters spend a half-hour conducting a phone interview with a telephone crammed between their upraised shoulder and neck. It was easy to see how neck strain could result. Yet reporters had a problem: They worked in a busy, noisy newsroom where they could not use a speakerphone lest they disturb other reporters and also violate the need for privacy. Moreover, they didn’t like to wear headsets because it made them look like secretaries and therefore uncool!

(Image credit: Flickr user jamelah)

In the humor section of most bookstores it is easy to find books depicting ludicrous inventions that were filed with the U.S. Patent Office. The books include meticulous patent drawings and descriptions, and are good for a laugh.

Inventing is an earnest but often awkward process of trial and error. In my cartoon-inventing sideline, I walked a line between seriously attempting to solve a problem in an unusual, but plausible way, and intentionally creating concepts that were obviously wrong and foolish, like those found in those funny patents books. Decades before there were cell phones, and wireless “earloop” headsets, I was trying to figure out the future of the hands-free phone.

These panels are mostly from the 1980s and early 1990s. The final panel, showing ladies using a PDA-type wireless telephone, was a reasonably correct prediction of devices that came into common use a decade later. Yet so far, I have not seen any version of my High Collar Headset! Nor have I seen another of my ideas: a headset built into a woman’s wig.

Visit Steven M. Johnson at his website.

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Perhaps the Domephone should be a requirement for all drivers. That way some of us won't have to die of a head-injury from an accident caused by those who can't talk and drive!

Thank you so much, Steve for all the wonderful posts.
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