The Joymaker is a fictional device invented by Frederik Pohl for the novel The Age of the Pussyfoot, first published in 1965. It bears a remarkable resemblance to devices in common use in the years following the start of the 21st century.
The remote-access computer transponder called the "joymaker" is your most valuable single possession in your new life. If you can imagine a combination of telephone, credit card, alarm clock, pocket bar, reference library, and full-time secretary, you will have sketched some of the functions provided by your joymaker. - from the novel
The Joymaker was conceived by Pohl in the 1960s after he saw one of the earliest time sharing computer systems. These allowed multiple users spread over a wide area, connected by good quality telephone or data lines, to simultaneously use one or more large (for the time) computers for a variety of purposes.
In its basic form, the Joymaker is a remote time-sharing terminal which uses radio communications instead of wire lines, and interacts with its user via voice rather than a keyboard and text output. It is small and light enough to be worn or carried, resembling in some cases a small sceptre. It can also dispense various medications, stimulants etc. from reservoirs within it.
The story concerns a 20th-century man placed in what came to be called cryopreservation, revived in the 25th century, and coming to terms with life in an era of massive computer power, accessed via the Joymaker. Unlike early 21st century portable devices, the Joymaker had little or no innate computing power.
The Joymaker had the following uses :
- Access to basic computing power, for money management etc.
- Access to libraries at any time, in any place.
- Educating children, each of whom has a special Joymaker.
- Health - the Joymaker can sense heartbeat, respiration etc. and the central computer can order it to dispense medication, or it can send help.
- Message Store and forward, later known as voice mail. This becomes the bedrock of social interaction in the story.
- Ordering food and drink, whether at home or in public. All payment is done using the central computer.
- Ordering other goods for delivery. Since payment is automatic, the expense of items is not always apparent to the buyers. The protagonist rapidly depletes his "fortune".
- Public Address system - any group of people can hear a public announcement on their Joymakers, removing the need for loudspeakers in public places.
- Locating people. The central computer can track the position of any Joymaker, and by extension, its owner. This information can be made available at the owner's discretion.
- Jobs not requiring physical presence. One character is a "Reacter," someone who samples new products and reports her reactions using the Joymaker. The central computer analyzes her reactions in the light of her known psychological makeup and is able to statistically predict how well the product will sell.
Pohl himself, in an afterword to the novel, made the following statement about the world he foresaw:
- "I do not really think it will be that long. Not five centuries. Perhaps not even five decades."
Forty years after the publication of the novel, most people of 2005 will recognise the functions of the Joymaker in the cellphone, laptop computer, and personal digital assistant. Only the medical capabilities are missing from devices carried by people in industrialized nations in the early 21st century. These devices, however usually have far more computing power than the Joymaker as conceived, and more even than the 1960s mainframe computers that provided the inspiration. Some of the actual social effects of portable communication and computing parallel those predicted in the novel.