A largish electronic calculator
My latest Astral Weeks is up at the L.A. Times, on Eoin Colfer's And Another Thing..., the next installment in the late Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. (Alas, I wish I liked it more.)
I love how the description of the Guide itself, 30 years on, sounds infinitely less fantastic:
"[Ford Prefect] had a device that looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million 'pages' could be summoned at a moment's notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON'T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters. . . . The reason why it was published in the form of a micron sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in."
This description, written back when a line about humans being "so amazingly primitive they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea" would feel au courant, now easily conjures a hand-held device, something like a Kindle crossed with a Blackberry.