My relationship with technology is perhaps best described by an event a few years ago, where I took a sledgehammer to a three-month old Dell. Something had gotten into that PC: when I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I would find glowing in my study, even though I was certain I’d turned it off. It didn’t matter what I did: scanned for viruses, rebooted the soft- and hardware, unplugged it from the internet, the Ethernet, and the outlet—I would still awaken at 3 a.m. to find it hard at work, presumably churning out spam from Krjekestan or some such place.
After I finally hauled it out back, took out my ten-pound maul, and expressed my true feelings for this particular piece of Seattle-made machinary, I mentioned my actions to a friend of mine who also happens to be a therapist. She looked at me for a moment, quizzically, then got a sort of thoughtful look in her eyes. Uh-oh, I thought. Here comes the prescription for Ritalin.
But all she said was, “I’ll bet that felt pretty good.”
It did. But that didn’t end my so-called relationship with technology. Flash forward four years: my family and I are getting ready to spend a year abroad and I suddenly find myself knee-deep in technology: In the last month I’ve purchased my first laptop, my first iPod, my first digital recorder. Four of the five members of my family now own digital cameras. I’ve learned to Skype, which is a verb even if it sounds like a tropical disease, and we now have two blogs. You’d think this sudden emersion in the silicon-driven conveniences of modern life would lead to a better relationship with technology, but in fact, it’s only confirmed my sense that I’m am Bill Gates’ bi-otch.
Take the iPod (please!): I’ve basically spent the last three weeks uploading every CD my family owns onto my desktop so that I could download it onto the iPod. Smart idea, huh? And entire family’s music for a whole year—jazz, classical, alternative—all on a little metal gizmo smaller than my wallet. The first part was easy enough, never mind that the iTunes system sometimes had a little trouble categorizing bands—I can buy REM as a rock band (as opposed to alternative), but is Sinead O’Connor really country? And easy enough loading all these tunes onto the iPod. But then my wife came in and said she’d found another cache of CDs she wanted to add. Nothing doing said my computer: not enough space. What the hell? I thought the whole idea was that computer and iPod would sync whenever they copulated, but apparently that’s not the case. It doesn’t help, of course, that the iPod “instructions” are basically seven sentences long. I guess they assume every idiot knows how to work these things, and my guess is that they’re right, with one glaringly bald exception.
In the end, I learned how to delete everything from my iPod in order to make space for the new music. I never did learn, though, how to get the new music on the iPod. I’m guessing we’ll be listening to a lot of local radio in Hong Kong next year.
Then there’s the matter of the kids’ digital cameras: now I’ve had digital cameras before, and the one feature I’ve liked about them, despite their glaringly obvious inability to focus where you want them to, is the fact that, when your card is full, all you have to do is hook the camera up to the computer and voila!: all sorts of windows and boxes pop up, microchips start to hum, and everything on the camera is automatically downloaded onto the computer and quickly assembled into a tidy little slide show, complete with commentary by Ed McMahon.
Now I’d hate to unduly influence anyone’s camera-purchasing decision by mentioning to you that both of my kids’ cameras are Fuji cameras, so I won’t do that, but you should know that these particular Fuji cameras, made by the Fuji company, are Fuji-made in such a way as to be Fuji-incompatible with pretty much every other software system in the world, except for Fuji software, made by the Fuji company, whose name I won’t mention (Fuji!). (Seriously, I’ve no idea what Fuji means in Japanese, but my guess is it's not something you'd want to say to your mother).
Anyhow, I discovered all of this bull-fuji when when I sat down late one night to watch a movie and organize some of my work files for the trip. On a whim, I also decided to download the Fuji-ware onto my laptop, so that when my kids took their usual adorable pictures during our year in Hong Kong (“Look daddy, here’s a dead fish being eaten by a dog! What’s that other dog doing to the first dog while she’s eating?”) I could load them onto my computer, put them on Windows Sky Drive (another piece of technology that I’m beginning to feel all Fuji about) and share them with the world—or at least the kids’ grandparents in Wisconsin. “This should be easy,” I thought, flipping on the television and getting out my three-ringed hole puncher (Yes, I am a geek). “I’ll just hit ‘continue’ every seven seconds or so, and the program will be all set up.”
Ha. Two hours later, I’ve given up on watching Kirsten Dunst pretend she can act, and I’ve broken every window in the house with the sheer force of my screams. Making matters worse is the fact that this anonymous company (whose name rhymes with Puji) had the foresight to put their manual on a disk, which means that, instead of holding an easy-to-follow booklet in one hand and banging away in frustration with my other hand, I’m forced to go back and forth between two open but basically un-navigatable windows, trying to figure out what the Fuji they mean when they say, “After expanding the image navigator sequence, undermine the corregatory application window, such that the sync in the applicator drains.”
Anyhow, round about six hours later I’ve had it. Furious, I crawl into bed, wake my wife, and whimper like a five-year-old who lost his teddy bear. Next morning I rise from sleep, determined to give unsaid company (Fuji) and their employees a real piece of my mind.
So I do. I wait until the kids are out of the house (best to keep them innocent, after all), dial the number I found prominently displayed in a footnote on page 378 of the on-line manual, and wait.
Not surprisingly, it only takes me 12 seconds to speak to a real operator. Clearly no one else in the world is stupid enough to buy a camera from a film company best known for, well, nothing. “Hello,” says a bored sounding young man on the other end of the line.
I let him have it. What kind of company, I ask, designs software so convoluted, so inaccessible, so just generally crapped up that it takes seven hours—yes, seven hours--to download the stuff, and then it doesn’t even work.
“Did you expand the navigator sequence?” he says, still sounding bored. I can actually hear him picking his teeth with a paper clip.
“Of course I expanded the navigator sequence,” I say. “What do I sound like an idiot?” I am about to go into my ‘I have a Ph.D. in Victorian literature’ speech, which makes me sound both pompous and naïve at the same time, when he interrupts me.
“The computer’s navigator sequence?” he asks. Pick, pick.
I pause. “The computer has its own navigator sequence?”
“Of course,” he says, “you Fuji idiot. Open the hard drive.”
I do. There it is. I hit it. A window expands, then something flashes and something else clicks a few times before a dozen pictures from my son’s camera flash across the screen in beautiful, full-color sequence. I’m not quite sure what Ed McMahon is saying in the voice-over (“Hey Johnny, whaddaya think of the shot of those two dogs making babies?”) but I recognize the ebb and flow of his voice.
“Huh,” I say.
Mr. Bored doesn’t respond, just waits.
“That was easy,” I tell him.
Still there’s a pause, then he goes, “Say it.”
“Yes you will. Say it.”
“Okay,” I finally confess, “I’m your bi-otch.”
Please note: this is a personal blog and is in no way a reflection of the Fulbright organization, which would probably prefer I avoided words like "bi-otch."