With the holidays drawing near, we thought it was the perfect time to look at the top items on any Techonomic wishlist—gifts that make the most of advances in science and technology to help build a better life. Whether “better” means fuller, healthier, or simply more fun is entirely up to you.
Equally good for the amateur chef and biologist, the Molecular Gastronomy Kit lets the user play mad scientist in the kitchen to change the texture, flavor, and shape of food—or even turn liquids into solids. For $60, this kit will let you “impress dinner guests” and “take your tastebuds on an adventure,” according to its description. (Chocolate spaghetti? Check.) Upgrade to this version for $117 and you’ll be able to make molecularly enhanced cocktails as well.
Nothing says “I care about you and want to know you even better” quite like getting that special person’s genome sequenced. Order this service through Knome for $4,998 and the lucky person on your list will get his whole genome sequenced—that involves decoding all 3 billion bits of DNA—plus an interpretation of what it means. Granted, this service is not targeted at average consumers just yet, so you’ll want to make sure the recipient of this gift knows a thing or two about genetics to get the most out of it. Part of the caché of this gift is entry into an elite club: the number of people in the world who have had their full genomes sequenced is still a minuscule sliver of a percentage of the global population; that is expected to change dramatically in the next few years.
If the $5,000 price tag sounds a little steep, consider the 23andMe personal genome service a good plan B. At $299, it’s far more wallet-friendly, and while it does not provide a full genome sequence, it analyzes enough pieces of DNA to provide interesting medical and other results. Since 23andMe targets consumers, you can give this present to anyone, no genetics expertise required. Of course, your recipient could find out he has genes from the Neanderthal genome—and you’ll just have to pretend to be surprised.
Whether you’re shopping for a survivalist or someone who just really likes her iPhone, the Voltaic Converter Solar Backpack is your answer. It’s a bag covered in solar panels, so it can charge electronics as you walk around. According to the vendor, the panels generate 4 watts of power, with one hour outside yielding three hours of talk time. Plus, a universal USB battery in the bag can stay charged to power devices for 19 hours of talk time or 48 hours of music playback. With this $149 gift, you can put an end to the battle for that lone outlet at the local Starbucks.
Reward healthy habits
OK, no one’s recommending more time with the family physician, but what could be more Techonomic than a cool gadget that encourages better health? Thanks to big improvements in wireless technology, there are plenty of options to choose from.
We like the Fitbit, a clip-on wireless sensor that tracks steps and stairs, calories burned, and distance covered each day. That information is all beamed automatically to your computer or certain smartphones, where it’s assembled and analyzed. You can set goals for yourself and watch yourself make strides (literally) in meeting them. Choose the regular Fitbit for $60 or upgrade to the version that tracks sleep patterns as well for $100.
An alternative that’s great for kids comes from GreenGoose, which builds miniature transmitters into stickers that you can attach to anything you want to track — whether a toothbrush has been used, a pet has been walked, how far the Frisbee was thrown, you name it. Information is sent back to a base station, which connects to a computer or phone. Achieving goals lets the user score points — and maybe earn a little extra TV time from Mom and Dad. Packages run around $49.
Remember the do-it-yourself erupting volcano that first showed you that science could be fascinating? Here’s the upgrade for today’s kids and kids at heart: a microscope with an easy-view LCD screen that can also take pictures or video of what’s on the slide. At $300, it costs more than that baking-soda volcano did … but we’re guessing your volcano didn’t have a science-fair-friendly USB connection to upload images directly to a computer, either.
A peek into the past
Various services now allow someone to send in a DNA sample and get back a fairly detailed view of his or her genetic ancestry. These tools rely on vast scientific databases of DNA samples from around the world; each service compares the DNA submitted by a customer to see which populations are most similar at many points throughout that individual’s genome.
Got a cardiologist on your list? Prepare to be crowned “best gift giver” with the AliveCor Heart Monitor, a small attachment that can turn the iPhone into a clinical-grade electrocardiogram recorder. Users place their fingers on the electrodes and an app records the ECG information through sensors in less than a minute. This is available for pre-order at $199 and is expected to ship in January. AliveCor notes that this product is intended for use by a medical professional.
And if all else fails, remember that even the most Techonomic people enjoy a nice pair of slippers.