Some time ago, I passed the point where I controlled the tools intended to make life easier, and they started controlling me. At that moment, I also knew I would spend the rest of my life depending on 20-year-olds.
Like you, I’m sure, my wife and I have numerous devices that entertain us, allow us to communicate and bring us the information of the world. The problem is that they perform infinitely more tasks than we need them to, we spend too much time dealing with them, and they make us feel stupid.
A case in point is my wife’s iPod, a device she bought so she could listen to music and assorted radio programs. I watched her spend hours trying to program it before she gave up and called her 24-year-old son.
Nonetheless, Stephanie has more patience than I, and so I defer to her when anything needs correcting. Not long ago, something went squirrely with our television, whose signals come via fibre-optic cable and Wi-Fi. It was she who spent two hours on the phone with somebody in either India or New Brunswick. This person patiently tried to sort things out and, when nothing worked, reprogrammed our entire package. While doing so, he helpfully pointed out that there are 999 codes in our remote control.
To me, that explained a lot about what we’re up against. Entering adulthood, I had a typewriter, a rotary telephone, a record player and a television with bunny ears. I was content knowing I could play music, watch shows, call my friends and type my manuscripts. The worst that could happen to my typewriter was that it might periodically need a new ribbon. Sometimes the record player required a new stylus. Thirty-five years later, we have lost the ability to intuitively understand how to make our devices work. We fight them rather than embrace them and are depressed by the knowledge that the future will bring more such gadgets rather than fewer.
In the last years of my mother’s life, two items recommended for her were a space-age hearing aid and a gizmo to call for help should she need it. The batteries for the hearing aid were so finicky even I couldn’t master them; the alarm device she found so bewildering that she cast it into a corner. The more things my mother needed as she aged, the less she was able to absorb how to make them work (and the smaller the buttons and keypads became, to boot). Now, the same force is beginning to attack me.
On the bright side, I have managed to meet young people through my devices. More than once, I have put in half a day talking to some helpful young person in southern India about my computer. The stunning magic of technology allowed them to take control of my machine from halfway around the world and solve problems I was too thick to comprehend. When they signed off, wishing me “good karma,” I realized they didn’t hold anything against me, though I’m sure they wondered.
Then, this morning, I received another gift from cyberspace: an unwanted bit of spyware. I did what I could, then called on my middle-aged neighbour Jim, who just shook his head. Ten minutes later, Jim’s nephew knocked on my door. In two minutes, he had me cheerfully cleaned up. Another 20-year-old. I hope we don’t run out of them.
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