Technology can be a pain in the neck

The view from my Florida “office.”

For good or for ill, technology has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives.

Robots began to invade the workforce assembly lines when I was a youngster. Never could I have imagined how far they would be integrated into our daily lives. Technology is advancing so rapidly that as soon as you buy a new cell phone, for example, it becomes obsolete.

We are so dependent on technology that we become exasperated when it doesn’t always work. If the power source goes out, we are stymied. Our electronic gizmos seem to be controlling us rather than the other way around.

For all of the promises of making life simpler, easier, and more rewarding, technology can be a pain in the neck. In my case, the pain was real.

I recently took my laptop computer in for its annual checkup. I believe that it’s good to have a trained technician clean up your technology every now and then. That assumption turned problematic.

The railroad’s version of a pain in the neck.

Skipping all of the gory details, let’s just say the guy pushed the wrong buttons on my keyboard. Consequently, a newer operating system unintentionally replaced my old one. I was unaware of the far-reaching ramifications.

When I began writing in the word processor, I found myself typing in the cloud, wherever that is. Thousands of my photos disappeared along with hundreds of research bookmarks.

The techs were baffled. My mind raced, fearing all the negative possibilities. The good guys at the computer shop felt just as bad.

They said they would uninstall the new system and reinstall the old one using the info backed up on my external drive. The techs thought that would restore my lost data and photos. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Which cloud was I in?

I silently implemented my meditation breathing skills to stay calm. Apparently, I need more practice. I woke the next morning with a stiff and painful neck. I attributed the previous day’s stress as a likely cause.

I realize technology has done wonders for global societies. Thanks to solar power developments, remote third-world villages can generate power for their community water well. That ensures local residents have safe, clean drinking and cooking water.

Where would the medical field be today without the technological advances in equipment and practices that have simplified radical surgeries? Technology also allows medical personnel to communicate remotely, saving time, money, and, more importantly, lives.

Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police depend on high tech equipment to help them do their jobs better, more efficiently, and more safely. Thermal imagining cameras, for example, help first responders locate trapped or lost people.

Smartwatches and smartphones allow society to instantly communicate person to person or group to group. People once geographically isolated from world events now follow global news as it happens.

There are drawbacks as well. Universities have to paint warning signs on sidewalks for students to look up when they come to a crosswalk at a street corner. Why? Because nearly all of them are walking and talking on their cell phones, oblivious to their surroundings.

Don’t get me started on the misuse of social media, phone apps, or even the Houston Astros.

My world improved when the technicians were able to reinstall the new operating system and updated word processing software. I once again began typing on my computer instead of somewhere out there. Most of my photos were restored as well.

However, the irritating pain in my neck remained. I’m still working with technicians of a different sort to get that repaired.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Behold the fearlessness of children

By Bruce Stambaugh

The fearlessness of children today never ceases to amaze me, especially when it comes to using technology.

A friend on Facebook posted that her young son had purchased an upgrade for an application for her wireless phone. I marveled at the child’s fortitude, yet also wondered about the dangerous ramifications given that such a transaction could be that simple.

A few days later I heard a similar story on the radio. A woman’s young son purchased a $50,000 automobile by using her smartphone while the lady was driving her car. How could that kind of transaction so easily take place?

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Fortunately, technology isn’t the only thing that our granddaughter enjoys. She was pleased with this roll of Scotch tape she found in her Christmas stocking.
I admire the ability of children to grasp and use electronic technology as if it were innate. Our three-year old granddaughter, Maren, could teach me a thing or two about using the iPhone, iPad or any other device that begins with lower case “i.”

My wife once discovered Maren, then a mere two, under the covers in her parents’ bed nimbly using the iPad as if it were old hat. This is not a pronouncement on either her parents or Maren’s tenacity and dexterity. Rather, it is a singular example of how well young children adapt to all things technology.

I think that both a blessing and a curse. I admire their aptitude to use a wide variety of electronic devices. I am glad young people are not restrained by the anxiety that many my age and older seem to have towards fully embracing technology. They use it with ease. We complain that the buttons are too small.

However, that untamed acceptance of gaming, texting, movies on demand, live streaming and so much more at the touch of an app has its drawbacks. My Facebook friend can attest to that. In fact, several mothers shared stories of their own young children committing similar acts. And don’t forget the mother with the brand new car.

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Children readily learn to use technology in their daily lives.

I find that both exciting and alarming. I am glad today’s young people so easily grasp the use of technology in today’s world. Technology really does put the world at our fingertips.

The world is growing smaller because of technology. Social media, tweeting and texting are the modern ways to communicate, including in third world countries. Even hungry children in poor, remote regions of the world know what is going on globally thanks to rapidly spreading technology.

The world is a scary place. If children can order items online or cars from a smartphone with the swipe of a finger or touch of an app, imagine the other possibilities that are out there. I like to think that most are good, expanding the youngsters’ horizons.

Unfortunately, some aren’t all that helpful, and perhaps are even harmful. The fearlessness of young children and their lack of life’s experiences make them vulnerable to the shysters of the world, and that’s not a good thing at all.

I would hate to see a family’s credit or reputation ruined because of some greedy corporation or individual taking advantage of an innocent, exploring mind. Worse still is the thought of even one child being naively duped.

I am not advocating prohibiting children from using today’s technology by any means. Children’s fearlessness toward technology should be metered with instruction, caution and supervision, applied appropriately for the age and situation.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to my concerns. If I did, people would pay me big money for my solutions and I’d be rich. Maybe then I could hire my granddaughter to teach me how to use an iPhone.

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Our granddaughter posed perfectly for a picture taken on a smartphone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

My mother said there would be days like this

By Bruce Stambaugh

My mother said there would be days like this. And that was when we used carbon paper in typewriters. 

Technology has come a long way since then. It is a wonderful thing as long as it works. If it doesn’t, I don’t mess with it.

Friends and family know that I could never pass for a techie. But believe me, unless you just want your flashlight batteries changed, I’m not the person to call.

My son knows this. My son-in-law knows this. My friends know this, especially the ones with technological smarts. I’ve called them all enough, sometimes with the lamest problems that seem totally unsolvable to me.

They come over, hit one or two keys or make some slight adjustments, and bingo, I’m back in business. I thank them profusely, try to pay them, usually without success. They go on their way, likely hoping I won’t call again. But they know I will.

I guess that’s really my point. I have to call my friends and family because online computer and equipment companies usually don’t list their phone numbers. Retailers do. Utility companies do. But if you enter the inner sanctum of a technology company’s website, just try and find a phone number.

Sure they’ll be glad to take your call to sell you something. I think that’s how I got in this particular fix to start with. I must have ordered the wrong item.

On the advice of my son-in-law, who has marvelous technology skills, more than a year ago I purchased an external hard drive for my laptop computer. It looked just like what I was instructed to order.

I hooked the sucker up. It beeped, lit up, whined, whirled and hummed. Finally, I had achieved success by actually connecting one electronic gizmo to another. The box said it would store up to 320,000 pictures. That number is probably close to what I have taken since I started using a Brownie camera as a kid when my mother warned me there would be days like this.

For the record, I have, or maybe had, about 5,000 digital shots on my desktop computer. I said “had” because the thing crashed, and I have yet to hear the magic words from the repair shop to “come pick up your restored computer.”

Oh, well. At least the 6,000 pictures on my laptop are backed up on the external hard drive. Or I thought they were.

Feeling a little leery with the desktop down, I decided to open the external hard drive and actually verify that all those shots I have taken were saved in the external drive.

Unfortunately, they weren’t. At least I don’t think they were. All I could find when I clicked on the icon were folders with acronyms I had never seen before.

That’s what got me investigating. I went on the manufacturer’s website, and once I finally clicked on the right highlighted phrase, I discovered that I most likely had the wrong piece of equipment.

It only took me more than a year to realize the obvious. The nice lady who answered at the other end of the retailer’s toll free phone number was sympathetic, but said I should have called sooner. No doubt.

I’m still trying to crack the manufacturer’s website code. They have lots of answers on their FAQs pages. Problem is they don’t have the answer to my particular question. Will their product work on my computer?

My mother never had that problem with her manual typewriter.

All I wanted was a new cell phone

By Bruce Stambaugh

All I really wanted was a new cell phone. The battery of the old one was about to give up the ghost.

When I say “old one,” I mean the cell phone I got just two years ago. I liked the phone because it was just what I wanted in a cell phone. It was simple, easy to use, slim, and fit snuggly in my right front pocket, where I keep my cell phone.

About a month before I was eligible to get a new, free phone, according to my contract, the battery quit holding a charge. I can’t imagine that dropping the phone onto the concrete floor of the garage had anything to do with that.

Besides the battery issue, my phone also talked to me, which I found annoying. I would bend over to tie my shoe, and a woman’s voice would spontaneously say from the inside of my pocket, “Please say a command.” She kept it up until I could find the clear button.

My wife was due for a new phone as well. Hers was much older than mine. A year in human time is an eternity by technology standards.

Leary of the national service provider retail stores, we prefer to use the local dealer. We recognize we sacrifice selection for service in doing so. But that’s just fine with us.

The young clerk at the store was friendly and helpful, and cast no disparaging comments my way when I said that all I wanted was a phone. However, she did look a little puzzled. So I thought I owed her an explanation.

Before I could begin, my wife, who has heard the pitch before, interjected that she preferred a phone that would make it easy for her to send text messages. The young sales woman quickly reached into the counter and pulled out a couple of phones, and demonstrated how they slid open.

My wife was almost giddy. Other than the color, either of the phones was just what she wanted.

The clerk returned her attention to me. I resumed my religious stance on cell phones.

“I just want a phone to make and receive calls,” I said simply. “I don’t text. I don’t want the Internet because of the additional cost. I don’t take pictures with my phone, and I don’t tweet.” My wife would have disputed the last point had we not been in a public setting.

Given my strict phone constraints, I only had two choices. I picked the one that best fit in my front pocket, even though it had a camera in it. My old phone did, too, and I never used it. I have a camera.

We arrived home with our new phones a short time later. As I walked up the front stairs, I heard a strange clicking noise like a camera going off in my front pocket. I took another step, and heard another click.

By the time I had reached the top of the steps, I already had two shots of the inside of my pocket. And I hadn’t even made a call.

I couldn’t figure out how this had happened until I discovered that the button that activates the camera was on the outside of the phone. I have no idea why the camera went off, other than to guess that the activation button was more sensitive than I was.

In short order, I figured out how to delete the pair of solid black shots. Apparently the flash comes separately.