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Family Room

Peace, Happiness and a Nifty Helmet Cam

Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) economist Shawn DuBravac told USA Today. "It’s a testament to what the tech industry has done to empower the consumer."

And with all that power, who needs peace and happiness, right? Besides, such intangibles seem harder to get these days than a smile at the DMV. Give us gadgets! Give us interactive software! Give us more bandwidth and hard drive space! Philosophical abstracts are nice, but there’s no joy quite like plugging your iPod into a plastic dog that bobs its head and taps its paw to the music.

Seriously though, electronics sales in the U.S. are expected to reach $160 billion this year! Researchers with the CEA learned that families intend to spend an average of $358 per household on "gadget gifts" this Christmas—items that are a far cry from the vibrating electric football game our parents picked out of the Sears Wish Book.

Have you seen the gizmos vying for teens’ attention? One landed on my desk recently. It’s a new helmet cam. This little marvel straps onto any protective headgear and, with the touch of a button, records over 30 minutes of video and audio onto a 32MB memory card.

My initial response was, "That’s really cool." Then my parenting filter kicked in, because I couldn’t help but imagine what my friends and I might have done had we been "empowered" with a helmet cam. Teenage guys have a way of thinking outside the box—like building a two-story skateboard ramp and jumping onto it from the roof. And since the region of the brain responsible for anticipating consequences isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s … Wow. I could almost hear the truth-in-advertising version of this device’s TV commercial:

Don’t miss the moment! This cordless video recorder is lightweight, durable and perfect for creating 15 seconds of YouTube infamy. Don’t settle for footage of your stunt from the point of view of sadistic peers egging you on from your front lawn. Seize control! This nifty new helmet cam provides a wild, wacky, first-hand video account of that broken clavicle—perfect for the kid who possesses everything but common sense. Don’t delay! Soon adolescence will be over, and with it the chance to capture memories of ill-conceived feats that, along with a few unsightly scars, will last a lifetime! Requires two AAA batteries. OK, maybe I was overreacting. So I went online to find out. Dozens of young men had posted videos of exploits captured on helmet cam while riding dirt bikes, jet skis, snowboards, ATVs and snowmobiles. I watched a skydiver slide off the top of a hot-air balloon. Another daredevil crashed trying to navigate a flight of stairs on a bicycle. Then there was that little skiing mishap entitled "Yet Another Helmet Cam Wipeout."

Judging from the victims’ reactions, a trip to the ER is a small price to pay for video that will have the lunchroom buzzing. After tumbling off a rocky trail, one mountain biker could be heard telling a concerned buddy, "I hope I captured that." Ah, the marriage of youthful exuberance and modern technology. The wiring of guys’ toys may have changed, but our wiring hasn’t.

By the way, my new helmet cam has been field-tested by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, albeit unofficially. It seems soldiers wanting video postcards of their visit to the front lines have been uploading footage to the Internet, compromising troop positions and other classified information in the process. That got me thinking: If we surveyed the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, where would peace, happiness and computers appear on their wish lists?

Published December 2007