Once a standard-bearer for the technological life, The Sharper Image may soon become a fading memory: its last stores close in the coming weeks. In its wake remains our voracious hunger for crap gadgets, a void that gapes from the brick and mortar of main street to the limitless web that killed it. You've doubtless been wondering where now to find janky gifts for the less interesting males in your family. Whatever your cause, enjoy our essential rundown of the best locations to get the very worst products offered in the post-Ionic world.
Abysmal Gizmos Galore
Following the demise of its longtime retail competitor, Brookstone is now nearly alone in its quest to serve disappointing technology to the mallgoers of America. Its oddly familiar selections include "Bob," a 5-in-1 Wobble Clock, and the Ion Dual-Ripping Cassette Deck with USB Output, for those with no knowledge of the magic format-shifting technology of bittorrent, but an almost infinite supply of free time.
USB to the Farthest Degree
Brookstone may put its collection on attractive urethane plinths, but Brando is in a league of its own. On every conceivable front, it has more, better, cheaper trash than any rival. Just today, new products include a USB Fast Food Flash Drive, a USB Cat Fan, and Sony's latest thumbdrive.
It is a cataract of crud, a deluge of dreck... but mere words are useless. Brando is best absorbed in silence, alone: just you, the universe, and its chosen serial bus. In its bosom lies every wonderful piece of brightly-colored flotsam you ever imagined–and then something really weird, like a USB elephant.
Unexpectedly banal gifts for 160 years
Though apparently just another catalog, this redoubt offers a better breed of purposeless gear, much of it concealed by genuinely high-end electronicana. One does not have to dig too deep, though, to find Golf ball-finding glasses or the robot beverage buggy.
The International House of Crap
It is with a little sadness that we come to Alibaba.com, an online megamall of random electronic debris. With richer pickings even than Brando, it is a virtual warehouse of everything Eastasia ever dreamt of committing to meatspace. Why, then, the melancholy note? Because almost all of it is for wholesalers only, to be bought by the thousand or not at all. This is where those "innovative" desk-vibrating speakers come from. This is where CES attendees get their promotional thumbdrives. This is the wormhole through which incendiary replacement laptop batteries ("highly safe") enter our reality.
Like lichen on an ancient sun-baked turd, however, even this cloud has a silver lining: those prepared to make the outlay get gear with their own logo on it!
Surf the plastic turf
The flea markets of Silicon Valley are organized by august associations with proud histories. London's alleys hide armies of clever villains, laden with fantastic gadgets freshly liberated from the backs of lorries. And there is mighty Akihabara: by sheer volume it touches the face of space. If you want to see the transitory world of consumer electronics invested with real and humane culture, visit just one of these amazing places.
If you've got a birthday boy to please on the cheap, however, the locals have got you covered. A manky stall amid the fruit 'n' veg racks of old Europe, perhaps, or a pegboard palace erected in a doomed suburban mall. Laden with pleather cellphone holsters and dodgy chargers, such inexpensive delights lurk surprisingly close to home.
Rag and Bone for the Internet-prone
eBay started out as a place for individuals to sell broken rubbish, and inexorably grew into to a place retailers could sell rubbish that never worked to begin with. A mandatory federal recall harshing your mellow? No sign of the lawsuit-bait blinkentoy that Junior demands? There's a suggested search with your name on it at the world wide landfill: Buy it Now!
The Stuff of Nightmares
Let's just put it this way: It's brave man who buys a used hot-tub in Berkeley.
Transorbital Lobotomy, No Icepick Required
Air travel. The foetor of the minicab, the chaos of check-in, the spite of the departure board. Your mind scattered, your heart a Jenga column of wrath, all that remains is your destination: the seat, the plane, past the monorail and the smelly carpet and the avenue of unpleasant restaurants. But when you make it there, it will be yours. The Book. Neatly concealed between nylon mesh and the airplane safety instructions, it waits for you, just as you wait for it.
In its dog-eared pages is a halving of the world, a mystic reapportionment of sanity and salesmanship. At 20,000 feet, a man can do strange things. Buy an electronic golf hole, perhaps, or a $190 plastic multidevice charging valet. It is a catalog with fully 18 items that marry the digital life and the wonder of defecation. What better digestif to follow a run-in with the TSA?
See also: Sky Maul
The Unbearable Slightness of Bling
Daniel Swarovski's original patent bears witness to an amazing discovery: Precision-crushed glass, given sufficient lead content, reflects and refracts light with the timeless brilliance of an acrylic rhinestone.
An icy temple of class, sandwiched between Build-a-Bear and Hot Topic, the Swarovski dealership is studded with a million sparkling lights. In another world , that $250,000 telephone could be yours; but here and now there is no shortage of cheaper options, each cloaked in a symphony of frozen snot.
Wait! What? Is its spirit not already with Hescheisstus, the god of unappetizing technology? Liquidation aside, this former giant's ghost is still with us, lurking in the retail nation's bargain bins and the few stores yet to close. Linens 'n' Things, itself just about ready for bankruptcy's embrace, has enough Ionic Breezes to single-handedly restore the Earth's ozone layer, should it wish to. A trip to your local Macy's will turn up a curious proliferation of recognizable items.
Moreover, there is now the promise of resurrection: Sorry to keep you in the dark. But, there's something big coming. Soon. Stay tuned," the official website declares.
Redemption or legerdemain? Come what may: forget synchronicity and forget divine intervention.
But whatever you do, don't forget the return policy.