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Wednesday, October 24, 2012



            Although I still have friends who refuse to have anything to do with them, I fell in love with computers early and hard.

             In the beginning I was as resistant as anyone when my boss insisted that everyone in our office had to learn to use a computer, and that we must attend a course to do so.

            “He is trying to make us into our own secretaries,” I moaned, glaring at the heavy hard drive that had been inserted under my desk and at the weird Zenith monitor cutting my work space in half.

“Mother,” said my daughter, a computer science major, “here’s the thing. I’ve had to watch you correct page after page of the books you are writing; I can’t bear to see how frustrated and upset you get. With the computer you won’t have to white out all your mistakes or go back and rewrite from scratch. You can cut and paste — move sentences and paragraphs around without having to type every page all over again. How many drafts do you think you throw away?”

            “Oh, eleven or twelve for every page,” I replied sadly.

The problem is, I’ve had a mild case of dyslexia all of my life, which means that I just plain miss a lot of typos and grammatical errors, necessitating rewrite after rewrite.

            “Just take the course. When I get home for Christmas I’ll sit down with you. It’s really easy – you’ll see.”

            So I trotted off to that word processing course where we were handed  light blue notebooks which I remember very fondly for the world they opened up to me. Although the learning curve in those days was very steep indeed, from the first time I moved a paragraph from one page to another and saw a clean copy of a page scroll out of my printer, I was hooked. No more was I wading through a quagmire of typos and erasures; every time that azure screen came up, it beckoned me to new worlds of thought and imagination.


      Then, there came email.  It was cumbersome and full of coding marks in its early versions, but I wonder if I would have such a lovely correspondence with my daughters during their college and young adult years if it hadn’t existed?  It is always special when a hand written letter comes through my mail slot, but in the days of snail mail I never heard from my childhood friends more than once or twice a year. Now, we email back and forth several times a month about the books we are reading, what we think about politics, and how to heal family vicissitudes. I have always been a volunteer and grassroots activist; now email makes it exponentially smoother. Instead of moiling and toiling with telephone trees and leaving messages, I can send reminders to volunteers with a click of the mouse and get stirred to action by emails from causes I support. I’ve been through two presidential elections using a handy dandy “Dashboard” for making campaign calls.  I set up my trusty laptop on my kitchen counter, and a screen pops up with a script for what to say that day to a chosen nearby group (seniors, women, for example). There is a name and address and a telephone number, with boxes where I can check off their presidential choice and whether they want to volunteer themselves.   

I was glad when cell phones came along for the safety they provided on car trips, and I used mine for travel until, one day, I went for an upgrade and purchased an I Phone. On this marvelous invention I can get my email, check the status of my stocks, take and send photos, find out what the weather is like, play a game of solitaire, access the Internet, check the status of my flight or the progress of my train, get the latest from all of my favorite news stations and watch episodes of shows that I have missed.  And I have gotten my hands on some truly miraculous “apps” (applications).

Nxtnutrio takes a picture of the bar code on food I am thinking of purchasing and tells me whether it is genetically modified or contains something I am allergic to. Drawfree is a word-guessing game I can play any time with my granddaughter far away in Colorado, with Leafsnap I can take a picture of some leaves to identify trees. My absolute favorite is TuneinRadio which brings me any station on earth — broadcasts from New York City or Madison or Boston or California. I am so entranced with this service that I have bought a gizmo which looks like a miniature boom box into which I slot my I Phone to amplify my radio shows. I keep it next to my bed so that if I have insomnia I can tune into BBC London’s breakfast program where the host puts me to sleep again by reading the newspaper out loud.

            Then there’s my GPS which, like my cell phone, I bought for safety purposes. I have a mild case of night blindness — not enough to stop driving but enough to make it hard for me to make out house numbers when I am going out to dinner.

            “You have reached your destination,” announces Charles in his British accent, “On the left hand side of the rrroad” (he has trouble with his Rs).

            The original computer voice had a much nastier tone —controlling, and mean spirited. A friend and I were on a road trip to Toronto. I told her how intensely I disliked the GPS  cyber bitch.

            “You don’t have to put up with her,” said my friend, “Go to settings; what does it say?”

            “Australian – we can have Australian,” I replied; “Or American—north or south. And, oh look, we can have British: male or female, and cockney or standard. Let’s try standard.”

            When we arrived in Toronto we discovered that we were staying in a neighborhood called The Annex, a maze of one way streets and confusing street signs.  Charles was right at home, and guided us plummily through the weekend. 

             For older people scornful of technology, I can’t emphasize the element of safety enough.  If you have a flat tire or your car breaks down, with a cell phone you are one click away from rescue; think of the difference between waiting in the heat of summer of the cold of winter for someone to come along and help. In case of an accident or sudden illness at home I have a Mobil Help system, which responds to a button I wear around my neck. Its speaker box asks me if I need help and, if I don’t respond, calls my daughters, a close friend, and the nearest emergency medical technicians. It came with a little all in one button and response device I can take along in my car and use at my summer cottage, making me feel much better about being all alone out there in the woods.

Enthusiast though I am, I’ve experienced the inevitable technological goof ups. Just after I purchased the Mobil Help service and had taken its  GPS device to my cottage,  I inadvertently sat on it. The next thing I knew I had frantic telephone calls from both daughters and my friend, while an ambulance siren wailed in the driveway.

            “Never mind,” said a policeman who also turned up, “It’s obvious that we need to know where you are, and now we do.”

Nor is Charles infallible. From his satellite up in the sky he can’t tell the difference between dirt roads and paved ones and has left me bouncing along over boulder strewn rural byways. I was going out for dinner one night to a house on a street that curved around so that it had two entrances onto the main road. He took me up the wrong one and announced that I had reached my destination when I hadn’t, refused to stop saying so and redirect me. Fortunately, I had my I phone with me and could call my hostess for directions.

            I am always trying to start my television set with my I phone; the other day I tried to dial a telephone number on my remote control.

            People complain that technology is eroding our humanity, making us forget how to talk to each other.  I agree that nothing is better a face to face natter with a good friend, but how about being able to use my I Phone to message back and forth with a daughter who is nervously awaiting a major operation? It is always reassuring when my younger daughter messages to let me know her plane has safely landed. My teenage grandsons have reached a non-communicating phase; without Facebook, I’d never know what they were up to from one end of the year to the next.

            Having always felt that it is our sense of humor that makes us human, the Internet’s  treasure trove of jokes has provided frequent balm for my soul. When a second grade granddaughter is coming for a visit I go to Prairie Home Companion’s handy dandy repository of second grade jokes.  When I am down and despairing, which happens more and more often as age nibbles away at my sensibilities, something hilarious from a friend arriving in my email can completely change my day.
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1 comment:

  1. eleven or twelve for every page...... never knew it was that strenous to write a book.
    Yes computers do all that work in a jiffy.