Electronic Frustration

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Seems to me the world is made up of the “cans” and the “can’ts,” and I am a “can’t.” Maybe more of a “won’t.”

Item: Are box lids and paper candy wrappers virtually intractable, or are my hands and fingers weaker?

When dinner’s menu features refried beans, it used to be a simple chore to crank a can-opener around the top. Now I take one look at the type of lid and take can and opener to Dave (who knows not to say a word as he cranks it open easily).

Or I try to stab the edge with the blade of the electric can-opener and let it do the heavy lifting. Ha. Nothing happens but some little paper crumbs grind off and spread around the counter. You’re not supposed to hold the can or wait for it, but I don’t trust that sinister-looking machine and watch it to the completion of its task – if it ever happens.

So I entered the age of computerization light-heartedly, believing all the claptrap the eager Bill Gates wannabees spread before us. Why, they said, you can fix dinner – all the way from the freezer to the stove to the table – when you start backing out of your downtown parking garage, and it will be ready when the garage door opens (automatically) at home.

Would Bill Gates’ invention know how to slow down the cooking process when the evening news shows all eight lanes of I-85 blocked by a rainy-Friday-rush-hour wreck, and enter a 10-mile detour into the GPS?

Maybe some wizards have their robot lawnmower programmed to leave the garden shed, add some gas, and zigzag until the lawn is the recommended 1.75-inch height, and with only a few ’mums sacrificed. Not we two. We not only have no grass to cut, we have no gutters to clean either (well, except for just over the doorways).

As for the automatic dinner prep, the system would have to be left turned on, not wise in lightning-storm prone Georgia. Have it turn itself off automatically? After my mishaps with can-openers, why do you think I’d trust an entirely computerized house?

Today’s diatribe comes your way thanks to my current electronic hijacking. Tuesday of this past week, all systems were go, except for the “big” desktop computer which was occasionally shutting down without permission (or, in computer talk, “permissions.”). I fiddled with it off and on, but opted to use the laptop, a more dependable machine in every way.

Yes, I’m a two-computer journalist and when I’m seriously working, they both hum along with me. Occasionally, however, they get in cahoots and both quit doing something at the same time.

This time it’s connectivity. When I threw the master switch on the UPS (UPS? Is that right? Universal Something Something?), nothing happened. Nothing at all. Not even the articulated lamp that hovers over my worktable. How could it not work?

I won’t bother you with details, mainly because I don’t want to look even stupider than I do now. Plugged and unplugged, inspected every connection, then started phoning my gurus, the ones that work at home, at least. One called back and sounded very confident – in fact, for a moment we thought we had it – but the excitement was short lived.

Finally moved the laptop off the table and resuscitated it on a different power feed. Took me that long to realize that its batteries had discharged because I’d left it plugged into the UPS which was also down.

When Mike Boylan got the unenviable job of being my editor, I was so heartened that I made all sorts of promises, like, “I’ll get my copy in by the Thursday of the week before publication,” which quickly became the Friday before and then the Monday. I’ve never been late for technical reasons, and it’s only just now seeping into my skull that I can’t call my gurus after midnight. They don’t mind, but their wives do.

It’s been so long since I’ve worked without access to the Internet, I’m not sure what to do. Wing it, I guess, and don’t require anything more than a dictionary and the World Almanac, of which I have paper copies.

Why not go to the library? Dave asks. No disrespect to the library – this is entirely my fault – but I get distracted very, very easily. Just this much has been interrupted by phone calls (not from my gurus, darn it) and bird-spotting. You can imagine how easily my eyes wander around that interesting space, or how often I’d delve into other ideas since research material would be right down this aisle and to the left.

See? If I can’t stay focused at my own desk at home, how could I hope to ignore the distractions of checking e-mail and noticing color and movement in the library?

So that’s why you’re getting one of those despicable “Can’t think of a thing to write” cop-outs. It’s true, however, and suddenly I have a legitimate excuse. It comes as a murmur from the couch.

“Do you know it’s 6 o’clock? When are we going to have dinner?”

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