Wonderful when it works, but when there’s a problem?

Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.
— Alan Kay, American computer scientist

– – – – – – – – –

Granted, technological advancement has improved quality of life, saved time and increased productivity. The advent of fax machines early in my career was hailed as futuristic. Quick to install one at the Light and Champion in Center, Texas, we marveled at documents magically transferred through the phone lines. It was the age of “Star Wars.”

My summary judgment since is that technology is wonderful when it works, but when there’s a problem?

The late Lewis Grizzard, Southern humorist and author, wrote, “Elvis is dead and I don’t feel so good myself.” With his trademark insightful humor, he poked fun at aging baby-boomers like me trying to fit in with today’s world.

That includes advancing technology such as home security systems that electronically perform what a bad dog and Smith and Wesson used to take care of, given the dog was awake and the gun within reach.

Like most today, the system at my house not only monitors security, but also the thermostat, lights and selected appliances. For all I know, it could be monitoring a lot more than that. The neat part is that it can be controlled by a smart phone, a great concept provided good cell phone service is available and the phone user is smarter than the smart phone.

A quirky control panel in my system required summoning a technician who installed a new panel quicker than you can key in a pass code, and was gone. Everything was looking good later as bedtime approached. Cats out, dogs in, doors locked, alarm set and pillow fluffed, I drifted into blissful slumber confident in the security of a sophisticated alarm operating on sketchy Center, Texas cell service, but backed up by my “three dog night” system.

My money’s on the dogs, plus they do one thing the alarm doesn’t—wake me without fail at 5:30 a.m. every morning informing me of their need to go out.

Blurry eyes on the new alarm panel at 5:32 a.m., I entered the pass code. Blurry vision or not, the flashing “Incorrect” was easy to see. Another attempt with glasses, was equally unsuccessful. With dogs standing at the back door, legs crossed and tears in their eyes, I touched each digit carefully once more. No luck. Third time was not the charm.

First thought was to simply open the door and within seconds, I would be talking to someone from the security company. Problem is, I could also be talking to uniformed police officers, possibly with guns and looking for intruders.

Deciding that calling the alarm company was a better option, I was greeted with a cheerful, “How may I help you today?”

“I’m being held hostage in my house,” I joked about the non-functioning panel. Note: if you’re faced with a similar situation, this response is not considered humorous among security people at 5:32 a.m.

Chat complete about what constitutes humor and what does not, we determined the technician had failed to program the new panel with my security code before leaving. “No problem, I can walk you through it, the agent assured me” However, said agent’s realization of not only dealing with someone who could not program their VCR, but also with talking to someone who really still owns and uses a VCR, dashed all hopes of a speedy solution.

Working around my technology-challenged skills, we stumbled through it to the delight of three, by  now, howling and agonized dogs who burst out the back door once it was safe to open it.

Crisis over, my thoughts turned to caffeine and again to Grizzard’s humor. Perhaps it’s not as funny as it was 30 years ago, but I felt like I really understood what he meant when he said, “the world around me is a tuxedo and I’m wearing brown shoes.”

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion (http://www.lightandchampion.com) and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers (http://www.tribnow.com).

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