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How the Clapper Works

Clappers in the 21st Century
The Clapper Plus comes with a remote control.
The Clapper Plus comes with a remote control.

Clap-on, clap-off technology just doesn't have the same zing it used to. After all, in an era of voice- or motion-activated lights, who can be bothered to clap their hands together anymore?

The Clapper is also incompatible with most modern electronics. Older televisions could be turned on simply by plugging them in to a power source. But most current TVs, radios and computers are switched on by computer-controlled activation. It isn't enough anymore just to plug them in -- which is basically all that the Clapper does. And for the energy-savvy consumer, the Clapper also doesn't work with fluorescent light bulbs.

Still, as much as they can, the makers of the Clapper have tried to keep their product fresh for the 21st century. The Clapper Plus, developed in the late 1990s, ups the ante by coming equipped with a remote control. Users can still activate it with claps, but they can also opt to switch on their lights using handheld buttons. Unlike a standard TV remote, the Clapper's remote control uses radio waves, which allows it to pass through walls or windows -- much like a remote key entry system for a car.

Newer versions of the Clapper have also allowed users to "train" the device. Rather than stick to the old two- and three-clap model, Clapper owners can now set their devices to trigger by individualized clap sequences. Five claps could turn on a table lamp, while two claps, a pause and a third clap could turn on the lights on a Christmas tree.

Even with thought-controlled appliances rumoured to be just over the horizon, the novelty of clap-activation still has a future. A recent iPhone app allows owners to turn their phone into a miniature clap-activated bedside lamp.

The manual light switch has remained generally unchanged since the 19th century, yet it remains a top seller. Whatever inconvenience there is in fumbling through the dark for a switch, the simplicity of the device is what keeps it around. As so it is with the Clapper. It's been called kitschy, cheap and tacky -- but it works, and it's here to stay.