“Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything, except over technology.”—John Tudor, Department of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, Hampshire, England.
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Saw an ad on TV last week about a vehicle offering a panoramic one-piece electronic display for the entire dash. Everything to control the car in one big wide electronic screen.
Once again, I heard my father’s voice when I remarked, “Why?” Dad never owned a car with power seats, windows, or much of power anything. Always said those were unnecessary luxuries that cost too much money to fix when they needed repairing.
I used to laugh at him. I laugh these days at knowing my kids are laughing at me. And just like every generation before, my kid’s children will one day laugh at them, too. It’s that point in maturity we all go through. It comes just before the one called, “Wow, I sound just like my parents.”
I’ve had my “wow moments” with the introduction of technological advancements in my lifetime. Fax machines, wireless telephones, the VCR: they were all heralded as “futuristic technology.” And they were huge. But while they were sold as conveniences or time savers, history has proven that when we buy high tech, we’re often just buying higher frustration.
Like my VCR. After all these years, it still flashes “12:00A,” harassing me about not knowing how to set the time. And I don’t even have a youngster at home anymore to set it for me.
When my son, Lee, was still at home, he and I were cruising through town one day in the used red 1984 Chevy pickup that was to be his first vehicle when he got his license. On that day in the mid-1990s, the high-tech, multi-button, seek and scan, digital time, AM-FM, cassette, auto-rewind, nuclear powered, double-knit radio was tuned to an oldies station. The radio in that vehicle was high-tech compared to the on, off, volume, and tuning knobs common on car radios when I was learning to drive. Therefore, once I tuned it to a station I liked, it stayed there because I wasn’t about to change It.
“Dad, can we listen to something else,” Lee interjected.
“Well,” I hesitated. “I kind of like that Chuck Berry tune that’s playing right now.”
“You can’t work the radio, can you,” he retorted.
“Sure, I can. I just want to listen to oldies right now.”
“This Is how you change stations,” he said, reaching for the radio. With the touch of a button, the volume leaped to a nine on the Richter scale. Widows vibrated. Leaves fell off trees as we drove by. Windshields cracked in cars. Dogs howled.
“Turn that thing down,” I shouted. I knew Lee couldn’t hear me. I just hoped he could read my lips.
Instead, he tried another button. The entire face of the radio fell off. Supposedly some sort of anti-theft deterrent feature. It landed on the floor. He looked at me, the piece on the floor, and said, “That’s the wrong button, too, huh.”
He managed to get the radio back together, but the volume remained unchanged. Even worse, the errant device mysteriously moved to a rap station.
“How do you turn this thing off?” Lee shouted. I couldn’t hear him, but I could read his lips. It’s a skill parents learn from teenagers.
That was almost 30 years ago, but some things never change. For example, I went shopping a while back with a friend needing a new clothes washer. I was still trying to understand why clothes washers need wi-fi when I spotted a “smart” dishwasher. It supposedly sensed the amount of food on dirty dishes, calculated the detergent needed to clean them, tracked the amount of lapsed time between loads, and noted the number of times the door was opened.
A dishwasher with more ambition in the kitchen than the average teenager cannot be a good thing.
Humorous columnist and author Lewis Grizzard once wrote about what life was like for someone raised in the 50s and trying to cope in the 80s. I’m thinking nowadays that we need eyesight from our 20s and more education than we could acquire by our 30s to navigate simple devices that once responded beautifully to a simple on/off switch.
Count me out of the unending rush to more technology and the resulting higher frustration levels. The most complex technology I need to cope with is one button on my phone that relieves my frustration.
It’s the one I push to call my son and ask him how to reset the time on my VCR.
And you thought I was joking about still having a VCR.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.
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