The tradionional mouse has become so commonplace in our lives that we barely give it a second thought, and it has changed very little since its invention way back in the days when computers were the size of a house and gigabytes were the stuff of science fiction.
It's true that the rodent's little rubber ball has been replaced with fancy optical tracking devices and lasers, and where once two buttons might have seemed a bit excessive, we now have devices bristling with more buttons than your average pearly king (gaw blimey guvnor), but things haven't really moved along that much.
You point, you click, you might get involved in a bit of scrolling or zooming action, but that's about it.
Trackballs, joysticks and tablets have all tried to muscle in on the mouse's territory with varying degrees of success, and the brief fad for virtual reality in the early eighties had us all dreaming of the day when we would don our 3D visors and motion sensing gloves in order to check our e-mails, browse the web or shoot our friends in the face with unfeasibly large weapons.
But now a group of British boffins has announced a new squeezable interface technology which they hope will change the way we use computers.
Suma, which has been developed by Cambridge Consultants, is a method of embedding sensors in a tactile, flexible material, much like the neoprene from which wetsuits are made.
The rubbery skin can then be used to cover just about anything. A mouse, a joystick, a ball, a flat surface or even, theoretically, a full-sized human dummy.
We spoke to the company's marketing director Duncan Smith about the future of what he hopes will become our flexible friend.
"We think there are medical and industrial uses for Suma where you have limited accessibility or mobility," he told us. "You could use the controller to have degrees of flexibility.
For example Google Earth is not the most elegant thing to use with a mouse and a keyboard because you need more degrees of freedom in terms of moving around, zooming in and out changing the angle of tilt. That sort of thing becomes much more intuitive using the Suma approach."
The company's first prototype, a palm sized device which looks to all the world like a rugby ball-shaped stress toy with a tail, also contains accelerometers which provide three dimensional positional data to the connected software.
"If you can use not only the movement of your hand but the shape of your hand and the amount of pressure you are applying to manipulate what's on your screen, it brings a whole new level of freedom," says Smith.
But analogue controllers which measure pressure are nothing new. In fact just about every games console controller from the last decade has had an analogue joystick device which measure pressure. So what's so different about Suma?
"It's true that squeezable controllers are nothing new. Most of them are pressure sensitive and just detect if you are applying pressure, or measure how much pressure," Smith tells us.
"Suma measures how you are modifying the shape of an object because when you deform it, you change the distance between a matrix of very low cost detectors which are polled by the device to detect a 3D impression of the shape of your hand in real time.
It's a 3D mapping of the contours of the device. It doesn't measure the pressure applied, it measures the shape of the device and therefore, by changing the shape of the device you alter the data."
The human hand is an incredibly sophisticated and massively complex piece of engineering and being able to measure the tiny inflections created my the movement of one or both hands or any number of probing fingers is an exciting prospect for the company's army of engineers.
"In the same way it is possible to tell things about people by the way they shake hands, our software is able to detect the tiny nuances of the way your hand is formed," says Smith.
"A lot of the applications which have been suggested would just as easily be served with a series of simple buttons, which is why most of the possible applications we are thinking of are in the creative arts field.
For example, you could use it as a moulding tool for computer aided design (CAD) where you can manipulate three dimensional shapes very easily. That also translates into gaming where perhaps you could manipulate the facial shape of your in-game avatar in a very simple and intuitive way."
We suggest that one of the other areas in which the Suma material could find itself invaluable is in the medical field, both as a surgical tool with techniques like remote keyhole surgery, and as a therapeutic aide. "One of the key things with the material choice is that it's comfortable to use," explains Smith.
"We have a medical team here and, although we haven't done any studies on it, we are hoping that there will be therapeutic applications. We'd like to think that RSI sufferers might get some benefit."
But it's not all about the serious stuff in the Suma camp. The Cambridge Consultants crew are well aware that new technologies are more often than not driven by the multi billion dollar games industry, and Smith and his team have their eyes firmly affixed on the gamer prize.
A forthcoming appearance at the Computer Entertainemnet Show in Las Vegas early next year is expected to generate interest from the big boys of the gaming world, including one enormous Japanese company already well known for its ground-breaking, rubber-covered controllers.
"We will approach people like Nintendo and obviously taking the prototype gaming controller to CES is our way of getting a reaction from a large number of people from different parts of the industry." enthuses Smith.
"But it's very much not a product at the moment, it's a technology. We're hoping that companies will use Suma to modify products that already exist. It's not a replacement for the mouse and we'd be crazy to suggest that it is."
So the grand idea is not for the company to develop its own products, but to license the technology to other manufacturers and let them run with the idea Smith tells us: "Our business is design and development so we would love to develop it for a third party.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if - although gaming is the obvious direction and the largest market - it could well be a niche application like medicine or industrial control or even a toy which drives the technology to market first."
And because Suma can be modified to match a particular market, there's no reason why it shouldn't find its way into consumer products - where its addition to existing devices could add as little as 60p the the production cost - as well as high-end engineering or medical applications where accuracy is more important than expenditure.
"The good thing about the technology is that it's highly scaleable," says Smith. "The more sensors embedded in the material the more precise it is, but that also increases the cost.
"But as far as applications are concerned we haven't gone too deeply into where the technology would fall. I almost wish we'd started a blog from the beginning of the development and asked people to come up with ideas because, since we launched the technology, we've had a number of intriguing suggestions from some unexpected sources."
And in a slightly desperate attempt to tap the rich vein of genius that is the INQ readership, Smith appeals for more. "We'd certainly encourage your readers to tell us their ideas."
When we point out that quite a lot of our readers would probably suggest ideas which would fall into what, for the sake of politeness and in deference to our family audience we will call 'adult entertainment', Smith lets out a knowing chuckle and says, "I'm obliged under corporate brand policy not to comment on that. But having said that, it's errm... very flexible. And kind of inevitable."