Tim Woodward: A low-tech guy in a high-tech world

It's not easy for some of us to digitize our lives. But we're trying.

June 23, 2013 

PATRICK DAVIS — Idaho Statesman illustration

The dizzying progress of technology has produced a society with two kinds of people - a minority of what I like to call the technologically resistant, and everybody else.

I refer to the first group as technologically resistant because it sounds so much better than stupid.

It happens that I am a member in good standing of the technologically resistant group - and I resent the implication that we're dim. We're smart enough in other ways; we're just not wired for technology. What comes intuitively to geeks and kids comes to us with great effort, if at all.

The scary thing is that we're becoming social outcasts.

This is not an exaggeration. Not long ago, for example, one of my daughters and two of my granddaughters were bonding around our kitchen table. By bonding I mean that they were communing with their devices. The result was silence, punctuated by an occasional comment about a text, a tweet or a chirp that the misfit of the group, me, didn't remotely understand. My attempts at conversation failed utterly. If I tried to break the silence with a comment about the news, sports or even the weather, they glared at me as if I had fossils coming out of my ears.

My wife, who is more technologically adaptable than I am, has taken to her smartphone the way a legislator takes to free dinners. It was all I could do to get a word out of her during a recent trip through scenic Nevada.

"Looks like a thunderstorm up ahead."

"Mmmm-hmmm."

"Nothing but desert. This road doesn't have a single turn in it for as far as you can see."

"Mmmm-hmmm."

"Look, a carrier pigeon!"

"Mmmm-hmmm."

My wife, daughters and granddaughters text and twitter on their phones, shop online with them, ask their phones' personal assistants the meaning of life. Their favorite response: "The evidence to date suggests chocolate."

Who says computers don't have a sense of humor?

The women and girls in my life use their phones to get directions, news and weather updates, restaurant recommendations, you name it.

It's all I can do to answer their phones.

Answering a phone used to be so easy. You picked it up and said hello. To answer my wife's phone, I have to slide an arrow, click an icon, enter a code, click another icon. …

Then I see how far I can throw it.

For Christmas, she got me a Kindle. This would be two, no, three Christmases ago. It took me forever just to figure out how to turn it on.

I was sort of getting into the iPod one of my kids got me last year for Father's Day until it viciously turned on me.

One of the songs on my iPod is by a group called Marconi Union. It's not actually a song; it's music (sort of) that puts you to sleep. Time Magazine hailed it as one of the 50 great inventions of the year - music instead of a pill for insomniacs. The trouble is that Marconi Union's eight minutes of almost hypnotically calming sounds on my iPod are followed immediately by B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone." So one second you're drifting peacefully off to sleep and the next you're jolted awake by blues guitar riffs. The thrill is gone, and so is the sleep. There must be a way to stop that from happening, but for the life of me I can't figure out how.

Don't even get me started on digital television. Last winter we switched to a new satellite provider. One look at the new remote and I was instantly suspicious. It has more than 40 buttons. Circular, rectangular and oval-shaped buttons. Black, gray, red, green, yellow, blue and orange buttons. Buttons with arrows, buttons with icons, buttons with functions I don't have the slightest understanding of and am afraid to touch. For all I know, one of them is an ejection seat.

The remote, of course, is one of many remotes - one for the television, one for the Blu-ray player, one for the now hopelessly antiquated DVD player, one for audio. … (The audio remote is roughly the size of a playing card and is forever getting lost in the couch cushions or mysteriously transported to, say, the laundry room. Sometimes it just dematerializes.)

It goes without saying that I'm forever pushing the wrong remote buttons - with predictably infuriating results. Just when I think I have the remote(s) mastered, I push the wrong one and instead of my favorite show get one of those nauseating commercials for Phillips laxatives, or, worse, the next episode of the Kardashians.

The upstairs TV? Forget it. I can't even turn it on. The installer explained the process, but it didn't help. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't want to push multiple buttons on the TV and the remote, slide a button, push more buttons and go hunting for a second or third remote just to watch a movie. I just want to turn it on and watch.

It used to be easy. Now, for the technologically resistant, it can be almost prohibitively complicated.

Last winter, I vowed to reform. Instead of remaining a dinosaur in the digital world, I decided to embrace technology. I took some computer classes. I learned to turn on my Kindle and actually read a book on it. I even bought a smartphone.

Not long after that, a funny thing happened at our house. We've been lucky in recent years to live in a neighborhood free of barking dogs that keep people awake nights, but suddenly our luck appeared to run out.

"Did you hear that?" I asked my wife.

"Yes, it sounds like a big dog."

"A really big dog."

Most of the neighborhood dogs are small. This sounded like Doberman or maybe a Great Dane. It barked at all hours. I walked around the neighborhood looking for it, peeked over fences and was about to start asking neighbors about it when I realized the embarrassing truth.

The "barking dog" was the ringtone on my new smartphone.

It was lucky that I hadn't already gone up and down the block asking questions about a dog that was actually a phone. It would have confirmed the younger neighbors' worst fears about the Woodstock generation.

It's not easy being a low-tech guy in a high-tech world. Sometimes I miss the days when phones stayed put, televisions had big, round dials and books didn't need tech-support.

Life seemed so much simpler then. All we had to worry about were the Russians.

Tim Woodward's column appears every other Sunday in the Life section and is posted on www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.

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