Friday, September 6, 2013

Stranger in a Strange Land

 Let us assume that you have been dragged, as I have, kicking and screaming into a world dominated by gadgets. Cyberspace. The virtual world. A Strange Land.
            Unless you live in a convent or go to extraordinary lengths to isolate yourself, it is barely possible any more to get by without a computer or a mobile telephone. In addition to this, your automobile, clocks, printer, electronic reader, sewing machine, kitchen range, coffee maker, television and microwave all operate on some kind of computer system which may (and usually does) go wrong. The sewing machine, for instance, must not get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or the computer will not work until it is warmed up again.
            New gadgets will appear minute by minute, and the pressure is on for you to have the most recent versions of the various gadgets.
            There are manuals to all these things. They are filled with errors and flat-out misstatements and are sometimes only available on line, which is not much help when it is your computer which is acting up. There are also help lines available by telephone; good luck. If you are very patient and your computer is still working, you may be able to get a chat window where a person in a distant land will eventually politely offer to assist you. It is the prepositions which give these people away. They do not know that “in the wireless gateway” is quite different from “on the wireless gateway.”
            The vocabulary for all the devices is ever-changing and non-standardized. Waiting in the electronics section of a department store, we asked the clerk “What do you call the device which records from the television. It isn’t a VCR any more, we know.”
            “Oh, you mean a DVR,” the clerk replied.
            “O.K.,” we said. “Can we buy one of those?”
            “No,” he replied. “That’s only available from your cable company.”
            Clue: Most of the gadgets are known by initials. Nobody knows what the initials stand for.
            Add this to your list of things obvious to natives of the Strange Land but maybe not to the rest of us: When entering letters on your new telephone handset (just purchased, because the expensive three-month-old telephones were not compatible with the new wireless gateway): Each number on the keypad (where you punch in the phone numbers) has three or four associated letters. Say you would like to have the airport taxi number on your quick-dial. To enter the first of these letters, press once. To enter the second of these letters, press two. So if you want to enter “cab”, you press three times, then one time, then two times. You may have to manually move the insertion point, but then maybe not. Something so obvious nobody would dream of mentioning it. The way “a space is a character” came as a computer typing revelation when somebody told you about it off-handedly.
            Your friends do not want to help you with this. It’s just the way they got tired of helping you move the piano in the old days. They figure if they had to suffer through useless manuals and unending bad music while being on hold for the help lines, you can jolly well do your own suffering.
            Clue: Sometimes turning everything off and starting over will work. Or you can do as the teenagers do and just try anything which occurs to you until something works. You may, however, have to get a technician to re-install your system if you get too wild.
            I got my first computer because I wanted e-mail. The computer stayed in the box for a week because I was afraid to hook it up. I joined Facebook because I wanted to find out what my grandchildren were doing. But you see what a slippery slope the Strange Land can be.
            “You are like your brother Les,” Nicodemus says. “You like your gadgets.”
            “I do not like the gadgets,” I answer. “I can’t figure out how to do without them, is all. And you don’t want anything to do with them.”
            “Yes, well,” he says.
            “I’d rather have two tin cans and a string,” I say, peevishly, trying to figure out how Skype works so he can talk to his friend Michael in England. (The new wireless gateway does not support 10-10-987 calls, which was the cheap way to go when we had a land line.)
            “I used to talk to my friends with tin cans and a string,” he says.
            “It would have to be a really long string to reach to England,” I answer.