We never saw it coming. No, those of us who are members of the baby boomer generation or older never did. We didn’t know that one day it would grab us by the shoulders, give us a good shaking to get our attention, then whomp us upside the head for good measure. No we didn’t.
The “it” I am talking about is technology. More specifically, its rapid advances. Throughout the history of the world, technology has always evolved and advanced but never as fast as it does today. Today’s innovations are modified or even discarded entirely tomorrow.
Once upon a time when a person learned how to do a certain task, he or she never had to relearn how to do it. Not anymore. Today, we need to relearn how to do lots of things we thought we knew already. That’s because the devices we use seem to be constantly changing. I figure it was about 30 years ago when technology really started to change at the pace it does today. That’s when we really entered the home computer age. With computers, our devices can do anything.
Recently I was talking to a woman who told me she has a new washer. She joked she will probably have to take a class to learn how to use it.
I understand how she feels. When I was 30, I knew how to operate every device I needed to use. I may not have known exactly how they worked, in fact I didn’t, but I knew how to operate them. Take the television, for example. I knew how to turn it on. I knew how to adjust the volume, how to adjust the color, the brightness and the tint. I even knew how to adjust the contrast if I needed to.
Not today. Today I have a flat screen TV. I don’t think I can adjust the color, the tint or the contrast. I think those settings are just what they are, but I’m not sure.
A while ago I turned on the TV to watch an NFL game and the sound was in Spanish. Why, I had no idea. That was the only station not in English. It was baffling. Efforts to change it through either the TV itself or the cable box proved fruitless. I ended up calling the cable company. Then I found out what I had to adjust to get it back to normal. I had to change some preference or another that I didn’t even know existed.
I thought things were fixed but then it happened again a number of months later. At least this time I knew what to do but why the telecast had reverted back to Spanish, again I don’t know.
The TV is just one thing that is affected by changing technology. All our gadgets are. I got a smartphone five months ago. I love it. It can do so many things. It’s not just a phone. It’s a still camera. It’s a video camera. It’s a TV. It has a GPS to help you get where you’re going. Men now have a real reason for not stopping and asking for directions.
My smartphone can tell me the time of day and the weather almost anywhere. It can tell me how many steps I take in a day. Depending on the app, it can do all those things and many more. I’ve discovered it’s even a tape recorder. My, my. The only problem is, my smart phone is smarter than I am. I have to figure out how to get the smartphone to do all those things. Sometimes it isn’t easy, especially since it didn’t come with a manual. I wish it did, but it would probably have to be as lengthy as “War and Peace.” No, let’s face it, at times electronics can be baffling, almost stupefying to many of us.
For example, I think today’s cars are really computers with an engine and wheels around them. Just to check the oil level I had to consult the manual to figure out what icon to hit on the display screen. In the olden days I would have used a dipstick and a rag. Not now.
It’s the same with lots of other functions. Changing the clock to Central Daylight Time meant flipping through the manual. I thought it was supposed to switch automatically. It didn’t. That was our other car.
I really wish electronic devices were sold with three different options: complex, less complex or simple. Give consumers a chance to purchase devices they can understand. That would be helpful. At least I think so. As the woman with the new washer told me, “There’s something to be said for easy-peasy.”
Correspondent Dan Moeller is a retired newspaper reporter and editor who lives in Freeport. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org