Monday, February 20, 2012

Adieu, Sharp,

It’s a sad moment when a man’s very first electronic organizer dies, as mine did earlier today.

I bought my Sharp OZ-7600 in 1991 when it was the hottest new thing on the market. With a whopping 32 KB of memory, 12 different functions, alarms, world clock and a removable calculator card, it put all other such machines to shame, and continued to do so until the advent of the Palm Pilot in 1997. Even though I bought a Pilot, I relied on the Sharp to keep all my telephone numbers, appointments and to-do lists. I took it to France when my mother died, and recorded the names and addresses of everyone who attended the funeral so I could send thank you letters later. I had a little brass nameplate made in case I lost it, which I did. Someone sent it back to me, with a nice covering note telling me they were so impressed with the little machine’s handiness that they’d gone out and bought one.

The Sharp went with me to Europe, Asia and Africa. My nephew, a gearhead of first magnitude, tried without success to buy it from me when he first saw it. My father was fascinated by it, and being a man whose life had been spent largely tethered to an old Royal manual typewriter, he found it almost inconceivable that so much information could be packed into such a small package.

I replaced the three large button batteries endless times and took to traveling with a half-dozen of the things in my suitcase.  This got me into trouble in Senegal, when a custom agent refused to believe these button-like metal discs were actually used to power something. He drew his pistol and escorted me to his boss, an imposing man who asked if I was a spy. I said I was not and some 10,000 CFA Francs later, the airport authorities allowed me to proceed to my hotel in Dakar.

In Kathmandu I spilled a full glass of Nepalese scotch on it. The paint on the case softened and I feared all was lost. I opened the Sharp, pulled out its guts and allowed them to dry on the windowsill of the Yak and Yeti Hotel. The next morning the little LDC screen glowed confident and happy.

For the past decade or so, as new phones superseded themselves and became tiny mainframe computers capable of awesome and often useless miracles, the Sharp stayed on the dresser in my bedroom. Once in a while, I checked an address in Europe, or a rarely used telephone number.  There was no way of transferring the information from Sharp to PC. The little cable designed to do this had never worked, and its business end did nt have a corresponding and accepting receptacle on my desktop.

This morning, I went to my Sharp to get my sister’s address in Paris. No response. The screen stayed a lifeless, scary grey. I changed the batteries. A message told me to unscrew the metal plate covering a fourth, hidden backup battery whose existence I had never suspected in the 21 years of ownership.

I did so. The screen blinked twice and read, Memory Cleared.

My Sharp OZ-7600 is now as unsullied with information and virginal as the day I bought it.  It is, in effect, brand new.  And totally useless. C’est la vie.

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