Dazed and Confused

Dazed and ConfusedWhen Did Technology Pass Me By?

By Lisa Monti

Some people are born geeks, able to operate any manner of high-tech gear without so much as glancing at the instructions.

Open the box, power the thing up and they’re in business.

Those with the geek gene can TiVo while blissfully listening to their iPod, and are able to download their favorite music, burn CDs and IM on their cell phone without batting an eye. Many can do more than one task at a time.

You know these people, and don’t you secretly hate them? Or maybe you are one yourself and know firsthand that for geeks of various levels of skills, technology is not a mighty challenge – it’s second nature. Nothing to it, they shrug. A piece of cake – not a challenge as it is for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those technology-inclined people, although I sort of used to be one. That was way back when technology was low-tech and nobody could predict that we’d reach a point when anyone who doesn’t have a cell phone stuck to his or her head constantly would be considered out of touch and practically uncivilized.

(Not to put too fine a point on the age factor here, but I will admit that I bought my first cell phone not to chat while grocery shopping or racing down the interstate but for extreme emergencies only. Such as being abducted by a UFO, which is not unheard of where I come from. This was back when cell phones resembled a hand grenade and didn’t serve as a fashion statement or accessory. But that’s another story.)

The first time I knew I wasn’t wired properly to be a geek was the day I put three copy machines out of commission.


I was a new college graduate, on my first real job, trying to do whatever my superiors told me to do so I could get off the first rung of the corporate ladder.

“Copy this,” someone told me, and handed over a stack of papers.

So I started feeding the originals into the late-model copier, which was the size of a Volkswagen, chock-full of options and buttons and lights. That was back in the day when technology was on steroids and all of the machines were oversized.

I was barely into the thick document when the copier choked and shut down.

No problem. I knew there were similar machines throughout the building, so I gathered up the document and climbed up the stairs to another copy room . . . .

Same thing. Paper jam, flashing lights, the whole crime-scene scenario.

I remember getting a little uncomfortable at about that time, looking cautiously over my shoulder to see if anybody was watching this machine meltdown.

Up more flights to the third machine. Another jam.

Now I was wishing that I had dusted my fingerprints off of the first two machines and wondered if there was a security camera in the rooms where the copiers resided. Had I been captured on tape killing off these behemoths?

All of that first-job confidence drained away as I imagined my boss deducting the cost of those three copy machines from scrawny paychecks over my entire career.

What had gone wrong all of a sudden to make me lose my touch with technology? I could change the correction ribbon on a typewriter, couldn’t I? I could set the alarm clock for two different wake-up times, couldn’t I? So what was the deal here? Did I develop an anti-tech aura that shorts out circuit boards?

Maybe if I’d paid more attention in math and science classes, like the nuns told me to, I might be able to understand how time and technology are advancing at warp speed, leaving me and a lot of people I know in the dust.

But I didn’t pay attention to Sister Mary Math and Science, and apparently now I’m paying some huge cosmic price for it.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I could program my hulking VCR so I could watch one television program and videotape another one. That was sweet. And I remember being able to set the clock on any machine in the house after a power outage.

Now I dread those twice-a-year time changes and having to refigure how to add or take away that slippery little hour of daylight. Why won’t Congress quit meddling in our lives? Nowadays I can’t seem to muster enough brainpower to operate so much as a television remote control.

In fairness, the earlier remotes had only a few functions – just enough to operate a simple TV set. The current crop of remotes have buttons for things I doubt really are necessary to watch a program chosen from, what, a hundred channels?

I once visited friends who had an elaborate setup for their television and sound system that required handfuls of elongated remotes filled with tiny buttons and symbols. I never was able to watch or hear anything when they left the controls in my hands, but I have a feeling I may have launched a missile from a silo in Kansas during one of those attempts.

Trying to jump on the technology bullet train at this point seems pretty useless. There’s just too much frustration and anxiety and, well, money involved, so I don’t BlackBerry or TiVo or iPod – and I’m OK with that.

My one concession to technology is my beloved laptop, on which I’m writing this column. No matter that I had to spend several weekends on the phone with tech support in India and the Philippines to get certain features figured out.

If I miss a television program, I get over it. And, no, I don’t want to record my own message on my answering machine. That anonymous man does just fine letting callers know I can’t come to the phone.

So I listen to public radio on a $20 device I bought at Target, and I can hear most of what’s being reported while on my early-morning walk. I can’t imagine having a thousand songs stored in a tiny player tucked in my pocket. That’s just too many choices and, frankly, I don’t think I have a thousand songs left in me.

But there are times when it would be nice to be able to push some buttons and program things to actually work for you.

The new thermostat in my house is programmable – theoretically perfect for those cold mornings when I could wake up and the heater already was purring. But the instructions on how to program the timer are so convoluted that I haven’t been able to use the feature.

Instead, I have programmed myself to jump up and sprint to the living room, jack up the temperature setting, and race back to the warm bed and covers. Not very practical, but it gets the heart pumping.

So why is stuff getting more complicated when the point of technology is to make our lives easier, safer and more productive? And why does our ability to operate new devices diminish as we get older? If anybody can answer that, please drop me a line. And keep it simple.