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Looking for the author and title of a 1950s-1960s short story. The plot goes something like this: every person is assigned a personal calculator/assistant (the original PDA). The PDA has each person's day plotted out for them and folks blindly follow along. One day, a person's PDA is broken or malfunctions; freedom results. I think. Very hazy memory. I was 12-15 at the time of reading.

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  • Interesting -- at first glance I thought you were talking about "Her".
    – releseabe
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 17:41

2 Answers 2

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You may be thinking of Fritz Leiber's "The Creature from the Cleveland Depths" which is available on Project Gutenberg

In that story, a man invents a device called a "tickler," which sits on a person's shoulder and reminds them of appointments, etc., eventually controlling people completely with these 'reminders.'

On the scarred black tabletop was a dully gleaming silvery object about the size and shape of a cupped hand with fingers merging. A tiny pellet on a short near-invisible wire led off from it. On the back was a punctured area suggesting the face of a microphone; there was also a window with a date and time in hours and minutes showing through and next to that four little buttons in a row. The concave underside of the silvery “hand” was smooth except for a central area where what looked like two little rollers came through.

“It goes on your shoulder under your shirt,” Fay explained, “and you tuck the pellet in your ear. We might work up bone conduction on a commercial model. Inside is an ultra-slow fine-wire recorder holding a spool that runs for a week. The clock lets you go to any place on the 7-day wire and record a message. The buttons give you variable speed in going there, so you don’t waste too much time making a setting. There’s a knack in fingering them efficiently, but it’s easily acquired.”

The device becomes very popular and advanced, and eventually virtually everyone is using them

“Gussy, you’ve got a completely wrong slant on Tickler. It’s true that most of our mass sales so far, bar government and army, have been to large companies purchasing for their employees—”

“Ah-ha!”

“—but that’s because there’s nothing like a tickler for teaching a new man his job. It tells him from instant to instant what he must do—while he’s already on the job and without disturbing other workers. Magnetizing a wire with a job pattern is the easiest thing going. And you’d be astonished what the subliminals do for employee morale. It’s this way, Gussy: most people are too improvident and unimaginative to see in advance the advantages of ticklers. They buy one because the company strongly suggests it and payment is on easy installments withheld from salary. They find a tickler makes the work day go easier. The little fellow perched on your shoulder is a friend exuding comfort and good advice. The first thing he’s set to say is ‘Take it easy, pal.’

“Within a week they’re wearing their tickler 24 hours a day—and buying a tickler for the wife, so she’ll remember to comb her hair and smile real pretty and cook favorite dishes.”

Eventually, most people have very little free will left.

“I’ve been living in a nightmare for the last week,” he said in a taut small voice, “knowing the thing had come alive and trying to pretend to myself that it hadn’t. Knowing it was taking charge of me more and more. Having it whisper in my ear, over and over again, in a cracked little rhyme that I could only hear every hundredth time, ‘Day by day, in every way, you’re learning to listen … and obey. Day by day—’”

His voice started to go high. He pulled it down and continued harshly, “I ditched it this morning when I showered. It let me break contact to do that. It must have figured it had complete control of me, mounted or dismounted. I think it’s telepathic, and then it did some, well, rather unpleasant things to me late last night. But I pulled together my fears and my will and I ran for it. The slidewalks were chaos. The Mark 6 ticklers showed some purpose, though I couldn’t tell you what, but as far as I could see the Mark 3s and 4s were just cootching their mounts to death—Chinese feather torture. Giggling, gasping, choking … gales of mirth. People are dying of laughter … ticklers!… the irony of it! It was the complete lack of order and sanity and that let me get topside. There were things I saw—” Once again his voice went shrill. He clapped his hand to his mouth and rocked back and forth on the couch.

The protagonist frees himself and the rest of society in a way I won't reveal, but it's not an exact match to what you wrote - the "tickler" doesn't break .

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  • Would be a dupe of this question if accepted
    – fez
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 20:39
  • I'll give it a read, but, yes, I think it is a different story. I originally thought it might be Asimov as the tone was lighter, but nothing came up in my searches; the Lieber story sounds much darker. Thanks.
    – erhm
    Commented Apr 1, 2023 at 0:01
  • I finally finished the story. Not it. Definitely not it. I'd remember. Tsk.
    – erhm
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 17:04
  • Sorry about that. Hope you find your story
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 21:49
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Perhaps the story of which you may be thinking is Codemus (Kodemus) by Tor Åge Bringsværd.

Here is a Google translation of a description of the TV movie based off of the story:

The television theater shows "Kodémus" by Tor Åge Bringsværd. A Norwegian television game, science fiction, where Morten Kolstad has created a screenplay based on Bringsværd's short story published in "Probok" (1968). In the vision of the future "1984", George Orwell tells about the surveillance unit Big Brother. Bringsværd's Little Brother has come about by analogy and is a computer and an extended arm of a central computer brain. Moxon-50. People's lives are well-regulated and synchronous. Everyone is dependent on their Little Brother. It gives orders, and clerk Kodemus obeys it blindly. He obeys even on the day that Little Brother breaks down, rebels and starts giving directives that go against the interests of the central computer brain. Finally, one of the directives is that Kodemus should throw Little Brother away and do what he wants.

Original text:

Fjernsynsteatret viser "Kodémus" av Tor Åge Bringsværd. Et norsk fjernsynsspill, science fiction, hvor Morten Kolstad har laget dreiebok etter Bringsværds novelle utgitt i "Probok" (1968). I framtidsvisjonen "1984" forteller George Orwell om overvåkningsenheten Storebror. Bringsværds Lillebror er blitt til ved analogi og er en datamaskin og en forlenget arm av en sentral datahjerne. Moxon-50. Menneskers liv går velregulert og synkront. Enhver er avhengig av sin Lillebror. Den gir ordre, og funksjonær Kodemus adlyder den blindt. Han adlyder selv den dagen da Lillebror går i stykker, gjør opprør og begynner å gi direktiver som går imot den sentrale datahjernens interesser. Til sist går et av direktivene ut på at Kodemus skal kaste Lillebror fra seg og gjøre hva han vil.

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  • I haven't found an English review or summary of the story (actually, none of the story itself), but I added a translation of a review of a TV movie based on the story, which seems to match.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 16:32
  • No. My early reading was confined to the US golden age greats: Pohl, Asimov, Heinlein, etc. Still wracking my brain,
    – erhm
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 17:05

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