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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dumber Than a Smart Phone*

My new...thingy.
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, September 6, 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

We are fortunate (or cursed) to live in a time where technology is rapidly forging ahead. What was cutting-edge in January is hopelessly antiquated by June. Our kids, steeped in this exploding environment since birth, swing with the changes with what seems painless facility. We adults, particularly the boomers, find ourselves struggling to understand even the simple stuff. Rare is the parent that hasn’t been rescued from computer hell by a 9-year-old.

For a long time, it was easy to discover the technologically challenged among us, the scarlet letter being the steady blinking of "12:00" on the face of their VCR's. But as the future becomes today, we all risk being left in the dust.

Nowhere has this accelerating complexity manifested itself more than in the cell phone universe.

My wife and I were relative newcomers to the cell revolution, not getting our first phones until 2002. We floated along, safe in the knowledge that our phones didn’t exceed our comprehension.

However, since last fall, we'd been talking off and on about our phones. We could upgrade again with our provider. But frankly, we were ready for a change. Still, we procrastinated until a series of events forced the issue. Cheryl inadvertently left her phone out in the rain, and the phone belonging to Tigger, our youngest daughter, had suffered some kind of blunt force trauma (no explanation offered or sought). Since we would be all together over Memorial Day Weekend, it seemed the best time to make the switch, using my birthday as the excuse.

“Tigger,” (fully recovered from her hit-and-run accident, thanks for asking) went with us, ostensibly to “advise” us on the purchase. I had already decided on a model with a full keyboard, since texting with a regular keypad had become decidedly too slow. Cheryl was ambivalent about any particular model, but with Tigger, the consummate techno-booster at her side, she never really stood a chance.

To make a long story short, we all left the store with identical versions of the Blackberry with touch screen menus, a full keyboard, and a host of features.

Like most men, I attacked the user’s manual. I was amazed to discover all the things I could do with this phone. Web access, GPS, video and music capabilities. I could use this phone as a modem. I had instant access to all my email accounts. I even had an application (or “app”) for Microsoft Word. I squealed in delight at this discovery, since as a writer, I’ve learned that most of my good ideas happen away from home. I spent hours exploring and testing.

Late into the evening, I surrendered to fatigue and laid it aside. Suddenly, a loud ringing sound sprang forth from the device. Somebody was calling! My excitement at getting the first call on my new phone was quickly replaced by a growing consternation. In all my explorations, experimentations, and testing, I had neglected to learn one important task.

How to answer a telephone call.

Frantically, I pawed through the user’s manual trying to find the correct page as the phone continued to ring. Cheryl woke up and irritably demanded that I answer it. I mumbled in reply, unwilling to admit that I while wanted to answer in the worst way, I didn’t know how.

She grabbed the phone and punched the correct button, handing it back with a deadly expression.

“Hello?” I spoke hesitantly.

The voice on the other end seemed very distant, which puzzled me until I realized that I was holding the phone upside down.

“Hello?” I said again, this time with more confidence.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” said the disembodied voice from the phone. Frowning, I pulled the phone from my ear and intently studied the display. After several moments, I figured that I had accidently pushed the mute button. Eventually, I found the correct button and made contact.

After all that folderol, it turned out to be a wrong number. Despite that, I was relieved by the knowledge that my technological ineptitude remained safely anonymous from anyone I knew. My masculinity was, I felt, fully intact.

Familiarity breeds contempt and I know over time I will become comfortably familiar with this device, flipping through applications (and successfully answering calls) with the speed of a veteran. But it is still a humbling experience to face one’s technological limitations.

I can only hope I'll do better with my first ray gun.
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