High Tech, Low Expectations

My generation is having yet another seriously embarrassing problem, and it has nothing to do with hair loss, erectile dysfunction, or laxative-laced yogurt. Many of us do not understand how to use our TV sets. My wife is a representative victim of this problem. “I never try to use the TV when you’re not home. There are five different remotes, for God’s sake! Why do we need so many remotes?”

It does no good to explain the logic of having five remotes. Especially since I don’t understand the logic, and although I have made a career out of explaining things I don’t understand, even I am stumped by this panoply of remoteness. Five remotes means that one or more of them is inevitably lost under a couch cushion or pile of laundry, or needs new batteries. Even if you can figure out how to turn on all the devices needed to watch Gilligan’s Island reruns, there is still the problem of finding Gilligan’s Island among the approximately 2,000 channel choices, including all the HD and non-HD channels, music channels, premium channels, conveniently arranged duplicate categories of channels, etc. I usually have about as good a chance of finding what I want to watch before it’s over as Gilligan did of finally getting off his island.

Part of our problem is that we grew up during such a different era. Back when I was a kid, the remote control was Dad’s booming voice coming from his La-Z-Boy recliner; “Turn it to channel 3, I want to watch the news!” There were only three channels to keep track of and if you didn’t like what was on any of them you simply turned off the TV and did something else. Nowadays we keep surfing from one channel to the next, as certain as those dedicated California prospectors back in 1849, that if we just keep at it we’re bound to strike gold eventually. Besides, we often don’t remember which remote to use to turn off the TV.

But TV remotes are only a small part of our hi-tech problems. Recently a “friend” of mine was on vacation and rented a car that had a push-button ignition. These things start up great, as long as you have the key in your pocket, or in close proximity to the ignition. But his wife didn’t understand how this could work. She had heard the rental agent say that you didn’t need to put the key in the ignition to start the car, and she was worried that her husband would lose the key, because he often loses keys and remotes and other important objects. So she held on to it in her purse.

This worked fine as long as she was in the car. But they both forgot about this newfangled key when he dropped her off at the movies while he went golfing. Of course, as soon as he turned off the car he was a goner. He couldn’t restart it without the key, which he didn’t realize until he was done playing 18 holes. He still couldn’t explain what had happened to the car when he went to pick her up in a taxicab. Rather than arguing, he just made sure she was always driving with him for the rest of the trip.

Even something as simple as a thermostat is no longer simple. When a “friend” tried to set his hi-tech energy saving model to vacation mode last winter (to save a few bucks on heating while he went to bake in the Florida sun) he inadvertently set it to demo mode. Instead of the reasonably cool 50-degree temperature that the indicator said he had reset to, he had actually turned the unit off entirely. Any settings done in demo mode were just to show a would-be customer how to program the thermostat. He arrived back home after two weeks startled to see frost on the inside of his windows. Fortunately, his insurance paid to replace his living room carpet and ceiling fan that had collapsed when the upstairs bathroom pipes had frozen and burst. Since he’d wanted to repaint the ceiling anyway, that was the silver lining.

Where once I used to look forward to finding out more about the latest models of cars, appliances, or computers, now I only dread the inevitable upgrades and improvements. The more these young engineers try to improve my life, the more likelihood there is that I’ll have no idea how to successfully send an email, or make a grilled cheese sandwich. Luckily, I still have a pencil and notebook to write with, a shelf of real books to keep myself entertained and a set of tech-savvy children to call to explain to me how to unlock and disarm my new keyless front door before the police show up again.


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