Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tim Rowland on Technology

Technology - Courtesy Loma Linda University School of MedicineBeing heavily internet-dependent, I have followed the pursuit of universal broadband in the Adirondacks with considerable interest. I have rooted for broadband, screamed with passion for download speed and drooled greedily over every last blessed MBps.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

After the week-in-tech that I’ve had, broadband can just get out. And it can take all its little electron friends with it in whatever form they might be taking. I’ll just start writing my columns in chalk on cave walls, and if someone doesn’t happen to walk through the cave to see it, well too bad for them.

Like many people who were in their 30s when the dot-com bubble hit, I am relatively conversant in technology. I work through most of my own issues through online forums, I have more than six apps on my phone and I don’t think that Instagram is a microwavable cereal. When I use Photoshop, it’s like watching a child eat a barbecued sparerib: It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

But I’ve now reached the age where my technology must remain largely static for optimal effectiveness. Someone once told me: “You know how you can tell when a technology is obsolete? When it works.” I used to enjoy fooling around in that sparkly but squirrelly world that exists on the cutting edge of technological advancement, but I don’t anymore. I have enough frustration in my life without volunteering for more.

And I find my adaptive powers are fading. The move up to the North Country has required a lot of my old-standby equipment be placed in storage for the transition. Which is why I found myself in Staples this week at the self-serve counter with two documents, one a hard copy that needed to be scanned, and one an electronic document that needed to be printed, signed and scanned. The scanned copy (being old, I’d forgotten I had scanner app on my phone) went OK except that I found out later that only the odd-numbered pages were communicated.

For the electronic document, I was to email the Staples PrintMe address and wait for a code to punch into the printer. I emailed, and waited for a reply. But none was immediately forthcoming. Time passed. I finally asked an employee, who seemed curious as to what part of “self serve” I didn’t understand.

To be fair, this isn’t just Staples. We of a certain age, when dealing with tech reps of all stripes, are treated with a strained, outward civility indicating that just beneath the surface ripples a bland condescension bordering on contempt, like they’ve just gotten behind a driver doing 55 in the fast lane of the Northway.

Anyway, after 25 minutes I got a “your request to print the following document could not be processed” message, at which point I was told “Hmm, that’s funny. Why don’t you try it again?” Now, I did have my MacBook and a flash drive, so in theory I could have simply put the doc on the drive, but no, Apple in its wisdom has decided that the world no longer needs USB ports, and while there is an adapter you can buy for $15, Staples doesn’t sell it, although they think Best Buy does.

I need to go to Best Buy anyway, because the keyboard on my new MacBook Pro is absolute garbage (it randomly types periods throughout the sentence and the spacebar only works when you hit it full-force with your knuckle) and these problems are common on this model, but the best they can do its “send it away” for a certain period weeks/months/years to be repaired and I tell them this won’t work because I am a writer and need it for my livelihood. This elicits no discernible reaction except for a passing curiosity over what it is that a “writer” might do.

At this point I get a frantic phone call from my wife, whose emailed photograph that she needs for work did not go through (even though it’s verifiably right there in her sent file), so I run back to my brother’s house, where we are staying, to resend and then rush out to go the grocery for a few items before getting back to Staples for another attempt at the time-sensitive documents.

And I know the civilized thing to do would be to ask everyone if they want some chicken salad for lunch, but I don’t, because the way the day has gone I know the grocery’s Chicken Salad Program will be down, and that the Chicken Salad Helpdesk will be assisting other customers.

So I just go, and I need some herbs and you can’t just get a bundle of rosemary anymore, you have a choice of fresh herbs, dry herbs, squeezable herbs, chopped herbs, minced herbs, herbs for your cat, herb combos and the print on the packaging was so small that I had to lean waaaay into the produce case to try to find what I wanted — and that’s when the automatic vegetable shower came on, soaking the back of my dome as if I’d been in a monsoon.

And you know why that happened? Because of technological automation. Because there is no little man, protected by union work rules up, in a both to look down to make sure no one’s head is in the case — at which point he yells, “OK Gus, all clear,” and Gus, who is also protected by union work rules, then throws the valve and shouts “Thar she blows!”

I do understand, technically, that it’s not broadband’s fault that my head got wet. But perhaps you will understand if now I just want to go read a book.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.


6 Responses

  1. Dick Carlson says:

    Great piece – but I’m sure Gus is in a “booth” not a “both” – damn that auto-correct!

  2. Cranberry Bill says:

    I will send you my comment in a stamped envelope as soon as I can find a new ribbon for my old Remington.

  3. Bob Meyer says:

    I love this piece.
    Thanks Tim!

  4. Dave Warner says:

    Great column Tim – I feel your pain!

  5. Dan Ling says:

    As someone involved heavily in tech waaayyy ahead of the curve (1980 programmer, etc.) but who has ALWAYS refused to go along with the Google / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram, etc. surveillance programs, thank you Tim for a piece well done. I’m hopeful that between the Russians and our new “Demander in Chief,” people might be beginning to reconsider the ubiquity of surveillance and their own willing participation in it.

  6. Charlie S says:

    “print on the packaging was so small that I had to lean waaaay into the produce case to try to find what I wanted — and that’s when the automatic vegetable shower came on, soaking the back of my dome…”

    This is good Tim. Way too funny.

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