Today’s frequent–if sardonic–observation that technology, rather than having made life more convenient, has instead spun us all off multi-tasking in too many directions, distracted by and over-dependent on our devices, is only more true as time marches forward. Yes–that was a 40-word sentence: the cell phone rang, and I lost my train of thought. It was our daughter. She had inadvertently “butt-dialed” us, as I understand the slang, and while I could hear her conversation clearly, I spent the next minute fruitlessly shouting, “Hello!” into the telephone. But that’s nothing. A few months ago, transcribing an interview while at home, I was deep in concentration when the ring of a cell came through my headphones–and like Pavlov’s dog I instantly tried to answer the digital recorder. I’ll admit to growing flustered as I stabbed at it with my finger and the ringing continued. Insistently. Then I heard the subject of my interview say, “Hello?” And, not wanting to be rude, I actually said, “Hello,” back. Aloud.
Say hello to Glitcho, the long-lost Marx Brother.
But the glitch isn’t always on my end. I recently created a LinkedIn account with the sole intention of finding an old friend with whom I went from childhood through high school. He went to Yale while I went to Berkeley; he was awarded a Pulitzer in the 90s, and I was awarded the last of our five kids. But now–owning a newspaper–it would of course be a coup for us if he contributed something. Could I find him? As I understand the slang, the attempt was an “epic fail.” Instead, my LinkedIn account found me–and kept inviting me, insistent as the ringing of that cell phone was during my interview transcription, to contact myself. “You understand,” my wife said, not as a question, “this account of yours is pestering everyone you know.” Now, I’d had no idea–but, while you can’t always be unflappable, you can try your best not to appear so hopelessly benighted. “Naturally,” I replied, coolly arching an eyebrow, “but at least I’m not alone.”
Or am I? Am I the only one whose DVR behaves autonomously, as a television station unto itself, sometimes seemingly recording–or erasing–programs whimsically? Life is considerably less convenient when you have to physically check, at show time, if your selection is being captured from the ether. And the remote control! You’d think my calling it “The Power” would, by conferring respect, appease it. Nope. A more churlish device has never been invented. It works properly only when it wants to; most of the time, its number pad does either nothing whatsoever or else streams a single digit into the receiver. This is bad juju–and the kind of thing you begin to develop a ritual against. Something, I imagine, like the endearments you chant to your car when starting it is difficult.
At least our cars start beautifully. They’ve only one idiosyncrasy: the automatic–and diabolical–locking doors. Think, “Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”
Ah, computers! Remember Y2K, when–it was predicted–The End would be visited upon us because the world’s computers couldn’t be expected to differentiate between the years 1900 (when they didn’t even exist; you’d think they’d have known better) and 2000 (when they were ubiquitous)? Well, operating the computer is, for me, always something of a personal apocalypse. Mastery–who am I kidding?–of Windows 7 took me years. So when my wife and I acquired the Voice–and this very computer to publish it on–I felt a certain decent confidence in my abilities. Here’s where I should have known better. No sooner had I started this thing when Windows 8 appeared on the screen. The death of Windows 7 was as the end of the world. And this new world? I’m like Columbus trying to discover India in Hispaniola.
New isn’t always improved. In my experience, “improved” means “totally different, impossibly complex, and difficult to learn.” “New” I’ve translated from the English as “that which is indicative of something wholly unnecessary.” My wife once gave me a digital watch. It offered more functions than I can now remember, but sported just four buttons. These, if pressed and/or held in the correct magical sequences, allowed you to…I still don’t know what. I prefer a mechanical watch. And the automatic models are not automatically an improvement on their manual cousins–it just means they wind themselves, something impossible to accomplish, say, in the lesser gravity of space. Which is why NASA, at least in its early days, chose for the first astronauts a very particular make. This watch took them, eventually, to the moon. It’s the watch I wear today–an Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moon” watch. It’s a simple, mechanical piece with two buttons that operate one chronograph–that is, a stop-watch. One button stops and starts elapsed time while the other serves as a re-set. Even I can work it! This is the model they used for timed fuel burns, and for consulting when actually bestriding the lunar surface. To this day, I remain amazed by that. And I must not be alone, because–so far as I am aware–the Omega Moon watch is still in production. But I don’t trust the newer versions. Why? The last moon shot was Apollo 17, in December of 1972. Omega surely must have been tempted since that time to use “new” components. So I purchased a vintage model, from 1971.
It runs fast.