Isn’t technology supposed to make things easier?

September 2019

Yesterday, I thought about how I used to be excited at the thought of getting something new – a new toy, a new game, a new bike, a new TV…. a new car.

“Why,” I thought, “am I nervously sitting here – worried, anxious – waiting for my new computer?”

The answer is that new products are incredibly complicated. It can take hours, – days, even – of hard work before we can use them. No more taking the TV out of the box, plugging it in, attaching the cable (or antenna) and turning it on. Today you have to read complicated manuals, often after time-consuming downloads, go online, buy extra items, make calls, get help – and hope.

My last car, a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, came with four manuals. One was 660 pages. It was full of places where it said, “On some models it works this way. On others this way,” without explaining how you can tell which model you have. It wasn’t long before I gave up. Two years later, there are still features I do not fully understand.

To make my phone work properly I had to go back to the dealer. The manual was not clear. The service writer said that the mechanics didn’t know the phone system, but she would take a look at it. She came out to my car, took my cell phone, pushed some buttons, tried again, and again, and finally it worked. I asked her how she did it.

“I don’t know, really” she said. “I just push buttons until it works.”

Today’s computers make it easy to print manuals to order, specifically tailored to each vehicle. It might cut 100 pages out of the main manual, and I wouldn’t have to waste time trying to figure out if a section applied to my vehicle.

We finally gave up on our 25-year-old washer/dryer this summer. The new washing machine’s computer controls broke down in the first week. Took another week to get a new part put in. It has roughly 65 possible settings. So far, we’ve used maybe 5.

The refrigerator we bought last summer didn’t fully work when delivered. It took three visits from technicians to make everything, including the ice maker, work as it should. We still haven’t managed to get the temperature settings right so that the freezer freezes and the refrigerator doesn’t.

I could write many graphs on my TV/Internet/phone experiences over the years. Changing channels has become an exercise in frustration. I will never get used to shouting at the controller. And I had no idea our cordless landlines would interfere with our wireless router.

The funniest incident involved intermittent static on our landline. It took five visits from three different technicians to figure out that a phone line and hot water heating pipe were next to each other in the wall. Every time the heat went on, the phone line was filled with static.

About noon, FedEx dropped off my new MacBook Air. I then spent more than 4 hours trying to get it to work as it should.

It took two and a half hours to transfer my files and apps from my old computer.

Then it took half an hour to set up a recharging space (Why do they change the damn connectors all the time?).

Much of the rest of the time was involved with passwords, registrations, and trying to activate my version of MS Office. Only three “chats” with MS support were required. It told me a technician named Kahlil would help me. “Kahlil is typing” the screen said. Apparently, he’s as bad at typing as I am. Took a long time to produce a short sentence.

I answered, and back and forth we went. Then it said “Kahlil has stopped typing.” WTF does that mean? Has he quit? It was ten minutes before he started typing again. His advice? “Restart.” I didn’t need him for that.

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