By Reno Ybarra
This is the first in a 3-part series about technology that people can wear or strap to their bodies and its impact on society and pop culture.
Similar to The Cosby Show or shoulder pads, the calculator watch was almost as pervasive in the '80s as neon hues. But unlike neon hues, this mathematically-oriented piece of jewelry has had a significant impact on wearable technology, and did not go down in history as one of the worst ideas since hydrogen blimps or asbestos. In fact, its longevity is proven in the fact that three different generations (baby boomer, Generation X and millennial) have donned the calculating time piece.
The first calculator watch came out in 1975 (Pulsar) but it wasn’t until the late '70s and early '80s that the watch became popular among the masses. Casio, Seiko and other Japanese companies began developing affordable versions that signaled the start of the calculator watch revolution. Once the revolution got out of second gear and started to hum, other big companies got in on the act. Computer and calculator manufacturers such as HP along with famous watch companies like Citizen decided to compete in the math watch market. More buttons and functions defined this class of calculator watches, but these companies were no better for it, as Casio fended off the new players with their simplistic design and affordability.
Despite its popularity in the '80s, the calculator watch could not keep up with cell phones that quickly became smaller and easier to use then a watch with tiny buttons. The '90s proved our infatuation with calculator watches would only last until something came along with more advanced technology, wearable or not. But, if anything is cyclical, it’s the 1980s trends. The advent of smart watches is a sign that jewelry with intelligent technology is once again rising to the forefront of a geek’s mind. Companies such as Pebble, Samsung and Sony are poised to offer the newest version of wearable wrist technology and there’s little doubt there will be a market there to embrace it.
On a personal level, I can attest to the magic of wearable technology. Having been raised in the 1980s, I remember the moment I learned about the elusive calculator watch and immediately added it to the top of my Christmas list. About a year later my mother was generous enough to splurge on her 8-year old son, and bought me a Casio Ca-53, which I promptly misplaced and lost after three months. But its impact on my life did not stop there as I currently own the exact same model, and wear it proudly to this day.
As wearable technology continues to evolve and transcend generations, the calculator watch will be remembered as one of the greatest wearable innovations of all times.
Stay tuned for the next installment of my Wearable Technology series that will focus on how cheating on roulette inspired the very first wearable tech inventions.