Last week I had a perfect storm of technological failures that caused me to long for the “good old days.” I didn’t realize until then that I define the good old days as that period of time early in my life when I wasn’t dependent on modern technology.
It’s not as if I’m one of those “cool” people who is connected all the time and my ability to get my job and personal life done comes to a screeching halt when technology fails me. I notice, retain, and react to way too much information, so over stimulation causes me to tend toward nothing more than moderation when it comes to my use of newer gadgets. So the fact that I would even rely on three devices in the same day is somewhat rare.
My printer had stopped working. I was going to meet with my writing group that night and needed to print copies to share. I bought the printer eight months ago and it was the third one I had to replace in three years. The roller was going bad and I knew it couldn’t be fixed. I knew this because I was told that was my problem with the other two printers that failed. I considered putting my writing on a jump drive and heading somewhere to get it printed, but I thought it would be much easier to just quickly replace my printer with the same printer, using the office store protection plan I had purchased. I had a lot that I wanted to get done that day and was sure that exchanging the printer would be faster than waiting for copies to be printed.
I went to the store and after showing my protection plan the sales person very kindly said he would go get a new printer for me. He came back saying that the printer was no longer in stock. So he looked online to see if any other stores had one. He found that the printer had been discontinued the previous week. He asked if I just wanted store credit to put toward a new printer. I said I was hoping to get the same printer so I wouldn’t have to take the time to install new drivers on my computer and go through the time consuming setup process. I just wanted to plug it in and print my writing for my meeting that night. So he looked online to see which stores had a display model they could sell. He found only one in the entire metro area that was available with all of the original cords. It was 25 miles away but I was willing to drive there to pick it up because I thought it would take less time than installing a new printer on my computer.
I asked the sales clerk for the address and phone number of the store and I was on my way – until I attempted to enter the address into my Garmin GPS and it didn’t recognize the address. So, I entered it on my smartphone map app. That also didn’t recognize the address. Of course I didn’t have a paper map of the Twin Cities in my car when I needed it, so I had to go back into the store and ask the sales guy to look up directions for me. He started giving me a tutorial on how to use a smartphone to get driving directions, as if my lack of knowledge – or age – was the problem. I squinted at the map on his phone to get a rough idea of where the store was located (I didn’t want to pull my reader glasses out of my purse and confirm his suspicions that I was too old for new-fangled devices). I walked outside of the store and tried entering the address into my phone and it suddenly appeared. Since my phone started working I was curious to see if my Garmin would also start working. I entered the address again and it worked that time. GPS Lady was all ready to be my co-pilot. Since she has led me off course before – and has distracted me from turning when I should with her tendency to accent the wrong syllables, I took a quick look at the general route I was supposed to take. I noted the highway number that would indicate that I had gone too far, in case GPS Lady fell asleep on the ride there. I patiently plowed through stop and go traffic on the freeway. I finally got to the city where the store was. I found myself on the highway that indicated I had gone too far. I looked over and I realized that GPS Lady not only fell asleep, but she died on my passenger seat. I had no idea where I was supposed to turn because everything had gotten so developed and so circular since I had last been in that city decades earlier. My map app on my phone doesn’t have audio, so I pulled over in a parking lot to look at the map. I could see a here dot and a destination dot, and I could see the word “mall,” but couldn’t zoom in to see a detailed map. Based on the location of the dots, I summoned my memories of the area from about thirty years earlier. I imagined it as it had been without all of the roundabouts, Starbucks, and Jamba Juices. I traveled down memory lane and soon found myself in front of the office store.
It looked like I was in a rough part of town, even though I was just on the back side of the big mall. As I got out of my car, a tumbleweed and garbage blew across my path. I grabbed my dead printer from my back seat. I smiled about the fact that I relied on my memory when GPS failed me. I thought, In your face, technology! I was still smiling when I walked into the store with my dead printer. I stopped smiling when the store manager screamed at me for bringing garbage into his store. I looked down at my feet to see if one of the paper cups outside the door had come in with me. With complete irritation, he pointed at my printer. I told him I was exchanging it. He asked why I would do that. I said because mine died and I had a protection plan. He said that it wasn’t his problem. I said the other store told me to exchange it in his store. He said that he talked to them about having the printer on display , but that I had been told the wrong thing about exchanges. He said I needed to call the phone number on my receipt and I would be mailed a refund in the form of in-store credit in about a week. I said I needed the printer that day, and I just wanted to swap it for the same one that he had on display so I could plug it in and print. He said he didn’t know where the cords were for the display one and said I should just get store credit for a new one. I said again that I needed it that day. He refused to sell me his display model. He asked if I had a smartphone. I said I did and he looked skeptical. Then he told me I could call the number on my receipt and they would send me a text with the credit amount immediately, and then I could show him, and then he could give me credit toward a new printer right away. I asked why I couldn’t just show him my paper receipt with the price on it and have him give me in-store credit. He said his store would lose money if he did it that way. I said I didn’t know if my phone was working right. He thought I was lying and told me to try it. I pulled my phone out of my purse and it looked like it was working. He smirked, shook his head and walked away to help another customer. I dialed the number on the receipt and my call got dropped. I moved to another part of the store, dialed, the call went through, then dropped. I moved to a few more places, and then outside the store and couldn’t get a call to go through. I found the manager at the customer service desk and told him my phone wasn’t able to complete a call to get the in-store credit text sent to me. He said again that it wasn’t his problem and told me to go back to the store I came from if I wanted to exchange my old printer for store credit by using my paper receipt.
I was annoyed, but eager to leave that store. As I opened my car door, I tried to remember how to get back to the highway that would take me to the original store. I could only think of circles, and then remembered I left my old printer in the store. I went back in, retrieved my printer, then I headed for the highway. After several circles and choosing several wrong exits I found myself on the highway – the wrong one, going the opposite direction I needed to be going. I remembered life having more right angles when I was young. I’m pretty sure I heard modern technology say, In your face, Julie! I looped around and was eventually on my way back to where I started my printer quest.
I carried my dead printer into the first store again and the sales guy who helped me was shocked. He felt horrible when I told him what happened at the other store. Using my paper receipt, he quickly gave me store credit toward a new printer – that had new drivers for setting it up. I decided I probably wouldn’t have time to get it installed and get my writing printed, but thought that maybe I could still put my work on a jump drive and have someone print it for me. On my half hour drive home I caught myself humming “Oh come all ye faithful . . .” and I realized that relying on technology that failed that day had pushed me to my stress limit. For some reason, O Come All Ye Faithful was my go to song when I was severely stressed as a kid and humming about the “King of Ay-ayn-gels” was the only thing that could soothe me.
I pulled into my garage and realized that if I was that stressed out, the simple act of turning on my computer, waiting for it to slowly boot, then loading my story onto a flash drive so I could rely on someone else’s printer to work properly might have pushed me completely over the edge. I considered writing by hand the 82 pages that I needed to share with my group that night, but knew I didn’t have time. I decided that the sketchy, barely visible copies I had printed with my bad printer would have to be good enough for my fellow writers. While I continued humming, I sat in my car trying to think of something I could do that was the exact opposite of using modern technology to counter the way I was feeling.
I went inside my house, changed into my outdoor work clothes, grabbed a pair of work gloves and headed outside to stack cut wood from the trees that had fallen over in my yard. I walked out into the spring sunshine and felt some of my tension blow away with the warm breeze. A chorus of birds greeted me. They sounded like they used to – long before the invention of Twitter and the 140 character attention span of almost everyone around me. I thought about how I have a few Twitter accounts I don’t use because brevity isn’t my strong point. As I stacked wood I thought about which modern technology I really needed.
Email: Very few people communicate with me on it anymore thanks to texting and Facebook. I could do without it.
Texting: Not very many people text me. Those who really care about me could just call me – preferably on my land line, where the connection is usually more reliable than my smartphone.
Smartphone: I really only use it to look occupied when everyone else at a gathering is looking at their phones. I hate being the only one seeking three-dimensional human interaction when I’m invited to an event, so I pick up my phone to pretend I’m not needy in that way. I could easily just leave such situations – and my phone – because literally no one would notice.
Instagram: I never bothered to get an account, because I’m pretty sure people don’t want to see photos or video of what I spend almost all of my time doing – writing and thinking.
Facebook: I resisted signing up for it until my daughter studied abroad and I wanted to be able to easily keep in touch with her/make sure she was alive. Now it’s really the only way I am made aware of friends’ and family “news” and it’s all I have to refer to for coming up with polite small talk at gatherings. But I think I could survive without making small talk. I use my account to post birthday greetings, thoughts and photos I think are cute/funny, and links to my blog, but I’m sure the world could survive without that! And I could do without all the wasted time spent thinking about why someone did or didn’t like something I posted.
Internet: I do appreciate immediate access to information, but I feel less stressed out after I interact with books that contain the same information. The back light of my computer monitor and sounds coming from my hard drive make me feel like I’m in an MRI machine. The quietness of libraries and the collection of people seeking knowledge there makes me feel happy; the internet mostly makes me feel sad that I know so much about the Kardashians as a result of accidental online exposure. Speaking of narcissistic people . . .
Blogging: It’s such an odd concept for ordinary people to assume that others want to know what’s on their mind. Being able to easily set up a blog promotes narcissism and, for the most part, fills cyberspace with garbage. It’s practically become a required tool for those seeking to be published authors. And it’s a tool I would be happy to lose.
Word processing on my computer: It’s a nice thing. The editing process is so much easier than when I used a manual typewriter. My writing was usually abbreviated if I knew I had the task of typing and potential re-typing ahead of me. But I could live without word processing if I had to because my real writing occurs when I’m curled up on the couch with a pen and a tablet of paper. That’s when I empty the contents of my brain and the creativity flows.
Netflix: I’m addicted. I have completely freaked out when it has failed to load and have paced around trembling while jonesin’ for my next episode. But I think I could replace my addiction with a steady supply of books and magazines that I’ve been wanting to read. Or I could just use that time to write – writing my own stories is equally addicting and imagining happier places is actually more fun for me than experiencing other people’s stories, anyway.
While I was stacking wood in my back yard and fantasizing about what it would be like to live in a place completely off the digital grid, I found myself humming John Denver songs. When I was a country girl growing up on the farm, having those songs on my mind was an indicator that I was relaxed – and where I belonged. It was a place from long ago, before my family even owned an answering machine, a microwave oven, or a VCR. The only stress that the technology of the era caused me was when our TV antenna couldn’t pick up PBS, the tape player unraveled my 8-track, lint got on the stylus of my record player, or the old neighbor lady on our party line listened in on my phone calls with friends. If any of these minor issues occurred I went outside and played.
After being tripped up so frequently by modern technology, I think that if I could find a place where I can disconnect from all of it, I would naturally feel joyful and triumphant – and wouldn’t even need to hum.
If you’d like to like or comment on this post, but are tripped up by the latest technology WordPress has been applying to my site, just follow this link to set up a user account (and still expect some stress because, hey, you’re using modern technology): https://wordpress.com/start/delta-discover/user
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