Technology and I are not friends. If anything, we are mortal enemies, having engaged in a decades-long battle over a variety of devices that have evolved and presented me with new adversaries. While these devices have changed over the years, my ineptitude at handling them has not. If it were not for the patience and know-how of friends and family, I would have left the battlefield long ago.
My earliest memory of being technology-challenged is of my unsuccessful attempt at about the age of 10 to get good reception on our television set. Like almost every family in America in the early 1960s, we had only one TV in our home. Sometimes the reception was good, and sometimes it was terrible. On this particular night, it was terrible.
One of my friends had told me that wrapping aluminum foil around the antennas would make the picture much better. I was skeptical about doing this at first, but I wanted to watch “Lassie,” so I got some foil from the kitchen. I wrapped it around the antennas and stepped back, expecting to see Timmy and Lassie on the screen. What I saw instead were blurry images. I took off the foil and put it on again, this time wrapping it tighter. Nothing happened. After several attempts, I gave up.
This trick might have worked for my friend, but it didn’t work for me. My career as a tech failure had begun. It didn’t help that my younger brother was in the room watching his sister try to outsmart the television gods with something designed to keep food fresh.
Somehow, I made it through the next two decades with little trouble from the technology world. I enjoyed listening to eight-track tapes without difficulty, probably because all I needed to do was press a few buttons. Even I could manage that.
Fast-forward (no pun intended) several years, and the button-pressing became a bit more complicated. It was the age of the VCR, and I was in over my head. Thank goodness I had a 3-year-old daughter who was a tech wizard. I remember one particular day when I was trying to set up the machine to record a program, and I couldn’t figure out how. In a moment of desperation, I handed the remote to my daughter, who pressed a series of buttons in the space of about 30 seconds and returned the device to her grateful mother. Three decades later, she still solves my technology problems.
What makes technology even more challenging now is that frequently we are focused on our devices while in motion. Whether we are walking or driving, we seem to be firmly attached to some gadget that demands our full attention. It is one thing to wrap foil on the antennas of a stationary television set and quite another to travel on a highway while using a smartphone.
The obvious solution to this problem is for me to use vocal commands. Won’t that make everything easier? Absolutely not! The creation of vocal commands has given me yet another way to look and feel ridiculous.
Allow me to explain.
Recently, I tried getting directions for driving to a friend’s house by asking my phone for help. At first, I asked nicely, but I got no response. As I continued asking without getting an answer, my tone changed. Suddenly, I was that crazy woman yelling at neighborhood children to get off her lawn. Realizing that I needed to regroup, I started speaking like Queen Elizabeth, who always sounded so calm and friendly. When that failed, I adopted what I thought was a female version of Mr. Rogers’ voice. Who didn’t find his manner of speech soothing? My GPS system may have been soothed, but it still was not cooperating.
I finally pulled into a parking lot and looked carefully at my phone. I had forgotten to press the “OK” button to activate the vocal response. I eventually arrived at my friend’s house, humbled by yet another technology mishap but impressed by my talent as an impersonator.
I don’t think my technology skills will improve in 2023. If anything, I will continue to encounter more sophisticated devices offering even greater challenges. I am just glad that my daughter, who began helping me decades ago, is still willing to help me.