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What this year's must-have Xmas gadgets tell us about America

A walk along the exhibits at Pepcom's Holiday Spectacular reveals that this holiday season is all about fighting robots, averting disease, and securing cars and guns.

Must-have Xmas gadgets only.
Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Gadgets are the future of you.

They're the things that anticipate your needs, appreciate the gaps in your life, and understand precisely what excites you.

So I found myself earlier this week wandering the halls of something called the Pepcom Holiday Spectacular, in search of signs of America's soul.

This Spectacular is "a media event dedicated to glimpsing the computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, apps, videogames, toys, gadgets, and consumer electronics that will be hot items this holiday season."

I am therefore your Xmas Paul Revere as to the state of the nation, seen through its most scalding technological items.

I confess that I was glad there was wine available, as I found the experience troubling.

My eyes were first attracted by the Lenovo booth, where it promised that its wares were "For Those Who Do." Ought I conclude, therefore, that Americans are doers rather than, say, thinkers? And what makes Lenovo computers so don't-averse? If I give someone a Lenovo computer for Xmas, what exactly am I telling them?

Merry Xmas, son. You do-nothing slob.

As I wandered, though, themes began to emerge. Technology's masters believe you are neurotic, America, and they want you to be more so.

There seemed several items designed to force you to monitor every single bodily function 24 hours a day. One that especially made me queasy was from a company called Basis. It declared: "Gain Insight Into Your Health." Another large sign said "Advanced Sensors for your Wrist."

As I stared at the blurb, trembling, I saw that the Basis band "has the most advanced sensors on the market, continuously capturing heart rate patterns, motion, perspiration, and skin temperature throughout the day and night."

Happy Xmas, Grandpa. Now, about your will.

I walked on, shaking my head and measuring my pulse. The more I walked, the more I saw fighting robots. They're crawly and weird and aggressive and everything you want to give your kids for Xmas. Especially if you've had the walls of the playroom soundproofed.

You might think that the Holiday Season is there to bring families together and let love shine. Imagine, then, what you're telling people if you buy them something called MySocialGPS. (Slogan: "Put Your Life in the Now.")

I confess I'd never heard of this undoubtedly appropriate Xmas gift. For this is "the first real-time social navigation app that enables people to actively find activities, friends, deals, events, and featured places and to communicate, schedule, and share these through a unified interface."

"It's like having a personal social concierge," says the blurb.

Merry Xmas, darling, and here's a way to get away from your family.

Still, the final theme that drummed its way into my already-throbbing head was that this Xmas, like so many before it, is about security. What better thing to do for your loved ones than to give them something to make them safer?

There was an Absolute LoJack, which is not a LoJack secured to a vodka bottle, but a LoJack licensed to Absolute Software. It's there to "help businesses and consumers track, manage, secure, and recover mobile computers."

Merry Xmas, boss. It wasn't me.

But wait, computers become obsolete so quickly that isn't it better to let someone steal one and make sure your insurance covers a brand-new equivalent (or better)?

The themes of fighting and security continued, unabated.

A company called Speck promises that its phone cover "meets or exceeds military standards" when drop-tested. ("Meets or" was in much smaller letters.)

The selling through war continued through the oddly named company called Escort.

No, this didn't sell those sort of personal services. Rather, it has the PASSPORT Max.

This is a machine that represents what every American needs: "By designing PASSPORT MaxTM around advanced military high-speed digital signal processing (DSP) technology, ESCORT engineers have given PASSPORT MaxTM the ability to search for threats fifty times faster than any other radar detector."

Merry Xmas, Mom. I hear Dad's been hanging out with some strange people lately.

And then there was the Gunbox. Tagline: "Defend Responsibly."

The Gun Box is "Gun Storage Evolved." It's "Where Safe Guns Live."

Yes, but where do safe people live? From the evidence of this spectacular exhibition, nowhere.

Merry Xmas, America.

Just what you've always wanted. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET
Merry Xmas, everybody. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET