Column: Tipping point


Remember, back in the last century, how stupidly complicated it was to program your VCR to record a TV show? My poor father never could figure it out and regularly called on me for help.

He wasn’t all that old or at all feeble so I thought it was a little silly that he couldn’t figure it out for himself. Either his brain just wasn’t wired in a way that allowed him to learn the ropes or he did not want to waste the increasingly precious moments of his life learning how to press a lot of buttons and follow an on-screen menu.

I can’t blame him. Now I’m 62 and I see a pattern evolving in my own approach to technology. I’m starting to rebel.

I now have a very grumpy thought constantly in mind: Only children brainwashed their entire lives by marketers to be good little consumers can be willing to bother with the current state of affairs because they know no better.

I know, I know. Now we can Skype. Now we can Instagram. Now we can Facebook. We can look things up and get answers anywhere, anytime. And computers allow us to do so much so easily!

The fact is computers allow capitalists to save money by offloading staff. Those lucky people who still have jobs have to work five times as hard as they used to work thanks to those labor-saving computers into which they stare all day and night.

Ahem. No. I’m not a Marxist.

So much of computer work is overhead, management and maintenance. And when you stop and realize that so much of the personal cyber experience is, in the end, designed to prompt you to, sooner or later, buy something, you’re going to wonder if you’ve been had, doing all that work to keep the purchasing path wide open.

My wife and I just got back from a long road trip and we’re exhausted not from the driving but from the experience of trying to make the TV remotes work in the motels we stayed in.

Just before the trip, I had to spend $1,200 to have a faulty computer sensor replaced in my car’s engine because it might have shut the engine down for no other reason than its own delusional (I mean incorrect) view of reality.

Hey — do you remember the days when you flipped a switch or dialed a number or picked a TV channel and you got what you wanted instantly? Remember when things you bought had no missing parts, flaws, software bugs, or extra things you had to buy to make them work right?

And remember the days when you could make a quick phone call to ask a customer service person for help and you got it because customers were always right?

Nowadays, you are on your own. You have to search the web to find answers to your problems. It might take hours, even days. But isn’t it wonderful that you can do your part to save Verizon or some other corporation the costs of selling things that work or providing decent costumer service? It’s good for the economy! It saves jobs! Why, if they had to spend that money, they’d have to fire thousands of minimum wage earners.

I mastered computers because I had to but, for many years, I actually enjoyed working with them — even as, over the course of my career, they became absolutely fundamental to the editorial process.

They make so many things easy. Save a story to the server and bingo it’s there for the editors and then ready to flow into the paper, no typesetters or production people required.

But I wonder if they create their own reasons for being. I remember with some anxious amazement how I used to write long news stories on yellow foolscap, plowing right along — once I’d gotten the lead right — with the need for only minor tweaks. Now I can barely write a paragraph before I stop, reconsider, and take it all apart and rebuild it, deleting this and adding that and moving one hunk of it to the end and another hunk to the beginning.

I set up a website for my book (I know, I know, you already know about my book) a year or two ago, designing it with Apple iWeb software and fumbling my way through the nearly incomprehensible GoDaddy site to obtain my domain name and set up my hosting account.

After a year, I got annoyed with GoDaddy because, as services came up for renewal, I found it impossible to get a clear picture on one screen of what I owed and why. As part of my new rebellious phase, I searched the web for “Alternatives to GoDaddy” and discovered other people hate the site, too, for similar reasons.

I followed one blogger’s instructions for closing my GoDaddy accounts (I couldn’t figure out how to do it on the site itself … but now I wonder if the blogger was planted on the web by a competitor) and I explored the blogger’s recommendations for better hosting services. I signed up with one, Dreamhost, and in a week I was getting long robot emails explaining why their server was down and why my website might not be available on line.

Oh well. I didn’t mind because, after hours of struggle, I had not been able to figure out how to get a decent site laid out. Has my brain atrophied that much in a year? Can a service advertised as easy for non-techies be even more complicated than GoDaddy? Can you fool all the people all the time these days and get away with it?

I sense that kids have no problem with the way things are, which I think has to do with the fact that they’ve never known any other life. Futzing with computers is life for them. They know what IPS and DNS mean and they love it, the idiots.

And certain older persons, who have never had to master computers, software, apps or websites and live in a sort of Colonial Williamsburg life bubble, are doing fine, too.

Well, I have much to be thankful for and I shouldn’t be such a raving grump. For one thing, I have the chance now and then to rant in public, just like the crazy people we used to see on the sidewalks on Midtown.

They are all buried in their laptops or iPads now, doing it on line.