When I first stumbled across this object in the Museum’s collection, I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at. Its form hints subtly at a creature living in the sea or the sky, and I did not understand the small buttons adhered to its body. “Prototype, Wrist Computer,” the object information stated. I still was not clear. Upon researching a bit further, however, it is an absolutely fascinating object that is a surprising concept model for the future, delivered from the past. It is, effectively, a smartphone.
Created in 1988 by American designer Lisa Krohn, the Wrist Computer Regional Information and Communication Port is a concept model for a device that combines telephony and computing. While the idea for such devices dates back to the early 1970s, the first prototype of an actual cellular phone that incorporated computing features wasn’t introduced until 1992. Krohn’s Wrist Computer predates this by four years and, rather than following the archetype of the telephone, she rethinks the possibilities of what the technology can be in relation to the human body.
Krohn’s Wrist Computer is made of malleable silicon rubber, designed to be worn around the wrist and secured with a button. Its intended functions include a phone, compass, clock, and regional information guide, and according to the designer, it “is capable of detecting its geographic location via satellite link.” A flap holding a speaker that activates the phone function of the device can be wrapped around the middle finger, mimicking the position used when holding a telephone. When not in use it buttons back onto the wrist, partially covering the keyboard and small screen.
Image from http://www.krohndesign.com/wristcomputer.html.
With her design, Krohn embraces new technology while exploring its relationship to the human body. For one, the device’s proposed power source is not only the sun, but its user’s body heat. Second, the design, to be worn on the body rather than placed in a pocket or bag, places user-interface technology directly in line with its original reference point—the body. In the designer’s words, “the appearance and texture of the Regional Port is inspired by both anatomy and an idealized interpretation of technology. It is meant to provoke thought as to how to intimate we really want to be with high technology, and how aware we want to be of its physical presence.” Given the saturation of technology today and its growing integration with the body, these are startlingly prescient words from the past.