published Sunday, February 27th, 2011

The highs and lows of using technology


by Jan Galletta

My love/hate relationship with technology had, of late, been leaning heavily on the latter side.

What was a tenuous balance between feeling alternately empowered, or intimidated by, digital-age devices began tilting in the direction of disfavor last fall when a hacker stole my password and played havoc with my e-mail account.

The negative trend gained momentum in mid-December when my husband, Fred, destroyed our television and bought a flat-screen model. The new set takes two remote controls to run and a user has to cancel functions, such as subtitles, in sequence just to turn off the TV. This is completely counter to my push-buttons-randomly style of television operation.

The anti-technology shift hit seismic proportions last month when I hooked up with two of my high school friends for a weekend in Atlanta.

We spent several hours the first evening browsing posts by fellow 1966 classmates on Facebook, a cyber sphere I seldom visit.

It made me sad to see photos of former teen heartthrobs who'd turned into wrinkled, fat, gray and balding has-beens (not to be confused with me, their peer, since I'm only wrinkled, fat and gray).

Still more depressing was the fact my seemingly brilliant biology lab partner from 1964 logged hourly updates, including such significant bulletins as his plan to patronize a Chinese restaurant for dinner.

One of my friends warned, "Don't be too judgmental; it's pretty much successful members of our class who post comings and goings. The losers don't let anyone know where they're incarcerated."

But then we accessed a video-submission site where we viewed a contribution by a college roommate of ours, a woman with advanced degrees who's married to a high-ranking judge.

Her submission featured footage of her church's mascot, a white rabbit with fur pigmentation that formed a black cross on its back, a pet she'd taken home for a holiday visit. We girls perused the latest of four productions starring the bunny -- a three-minute yawn in which it twitched its whiskers twice and scratched an ear for only the briefest of intervals.

"That rabbit doesn't do anything worth watching, like climbing into watering cans or, at the very least, multiplying," I said. "Why would anyone bother to film it, much less put it online?"

Curiously, this now immortalized hare reminded me of when, years ago, I won a food processor and an onlooker said, "You'll never again chop an onion by hand."

Wrong. It's much easier for me to dice vegetables with a knife than to drag a kitchen gadget out of an appliance barn, assemble its mysterious parts and clean all its little components after use.

I was still pondering this -- musing that it's pointless to employ machines or technology if using either seems like a counterproductive waste of time -- the next day.And is always the case when I don't get something, I felt inadequate for not grasping modern marvels.

But then, in the span of just a few hours, Fred's GPS got me to a fish market, a wine shop, a shopping mall, a restaurant, a theater and a residential destination without a single wrong turn or overshot address, a feat no paper map has ever accomplished.

And a day after returning home, I found online an ancestor's World War I draft registration, a document that proved to be the link to another four generations of forebearers for my family tree. I considered kissing the computer in gratitude.

So I'm once again warming up to certain Information Era-innovations and feeling a little less like the Luddite I've earlier been branded. And I'm thinking that the digital technology that I so often perceive as threatening just may be the ticket to achieving one of my penultimate objectives -- physical time travel.

Already, it's helping me connect with ancient kinsmen and, should I ever decide to foray boldly into the future, it may produce a GPS to guide me on the journey.

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