THE MOUSE

Never mind inventing a better mousetrap, as sages used to say. How about a better mouse?

Long before the iPad hit shelves, Steve Jobs was touting its allegedly "revolutionary" means of data input. The blogosphere was abuzz with talk of a new finger-swiping language that would allow the company to jettison the traditional computer mouse for something better.

Instead, all we got was an on-screen keyboard that reinforces the old standby of hunt and peck.

Apple is still trying, marketing its neat but hardly essential trackpads with considerable fury. But while it hasn't quite invented a better mouse trap -- and nor have Dell ( DELL), Microsoft ( MSFT), H-P ( HP) and the numerous other pioneers of touchscreen tech -- it does keep improving actual mouse technology. First was the optical mouse, with no wheels that needed to be cleared of lint to keep from clogging. Now everyone buying an iMac gets a buttonless, wireless "Magic Mouse" that works with gestures. As Apple enthuses, "Scroll in any direction with one finger, swipe through Web pages and photos with two and click and double-click anywhere. Inside Magic Mouse is a chip that tells it exactly what you want to do. Which means Magic Mouse won't confuse a scroll with a swipe. It even knows when you're just resting your hand on it."

Magical! But this doesn't change the fact that increasingly the mouse is inadequate for what we do with computers, especially for the tablets, PDAs and smartphones to which we've become addicted.

So why do we still use them? The fact remains that the lowly mouse is so ingrained in our computer interactions that it is our gateway to all things technical. Take it away and you will accomplish is a technological variation of phantom limb.

Also, without a mouse, what would we do with all the free mousepads we collected over the years?

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