Category Archives: Technology
. . . must have used this slot for processing transactions, like payments for commissioned cave paintings and wooly mammoth chops.
I read recently how having a smartphone is like having a slot machine in your hand. Every time you pick it up, you wonder what you’ll get. You’ve just got to know what you’ve received since you put it down. On your email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Three cherries?
A friend said, “Having this object within your reach is addicting.” I thought she meant that having the Encyclopedia Britannica in hand to answer your every question in the moment was addicting. She meant the slot machine.
There are other effects: texting neck, thumbs supposedly growing larger, people losing the ability to read facial cues, families texting instead of talking within the home, device lights bedside ruining sleep, mysterious waves irradiating our brains…who knows? For sure: teens hiding in their darkened rooms gaming (weird) instead of fleeing their parents (normal) to run around in the woods (healthy).
A woman on a plane told me she’d instructed her grandkids, “Leave those things in the car.” Horrified, they asked, “What will we do?” Her response: Talk to each other.
When people go on such “screen diets,” limiting their hours on devices, they feel freed yet perilously untethered. When we misplace our phones we absolutely panic, the cost and nuisance aside. We are disconnected, lost at sea. An animal cut off from its herd. Danger!
I once asked a techy friend a techy question and he said he knew the answer at one time but no longer needed to commit anything to memory because his External Brain had all the answers. How many times have you looked up a fact on your device and immediately forgotten the answer? Because you don’t need to know it any more.
Your “multi-purpose mobile computing device” has crazy stuff inside: a magnetometer, proximity sensors, barometer, gyroscope and accelerometer (Wikipedia!). Is all that in our internal brains?
The stats about smartphone use – 3 hours daily for adults, way more for teens – boggle. A decade ago it was 90 minutes. Apps are designed for addiction, with intentionally varying (slot machine!) reward patterns that tease your brain’s reward circuitry. We’re hooked.
With my phone, I mainly communicate – a lot. I’m hooked on communicating. I stress when I realize I haven’t responded to a missive, when the reality is that people send so many that they are hardly waiting for my answer.
If your kid constantly consulted an encyclopedia, you’d be thrilled. That’s the gorgeous Internet. But how many people are doing this? I do searches and read various newses, but mostly I’m texting and forwarding funny stuff. I “Google” with tremendous urgency things like, “Who’s hosting SNL?” or “What does Serena Williams weigh?” Not: “What is a Rhodes Scholar?”
So despite what most impresses about our devices — the world at our fingertips — many use ours mostly to spread joy. Nice! Until: suddenly the day’s over and your free time went down the iDrain. Your room untidy, tasks incomplete…and that class you were gonna take? The bridge club you were to form? All gone. When I’m in Boston I’m texting Vermont and when in Vermont I’m texting Boston when, really, who cares what I’m up to? Why do I have to “report in?” Send a photo? Suggest a restaurant?
I mostly quit Facebook. Because every time I went in, OOPS, there went another :45. I could’ve learned a musical instrument in the hours I wasted reading rampant, silly pandering in there – “Beautiful!”, “That roast looks delicious!” or, the worst, “You look like sisters!” where a woman and her daughter are pictured. Madness.
The line for phone etiquette is ever moving. First, it was rude to talk on your phone in an elevator with trapped others listening to the asininity of your half-convo. Then that became fine, then to be on your phone at a meal. Then to set your child up at a restaurant with an iPad, no earbuds. We don’t look up from our phone when people speak to us. We answer their questions while typing. Lately, I don’t look at them while we’re talking no matter what I’m doing. I first ascribed that to the increased concentration required in your 50s for word retrieval and recalling the names of celebrities. I’m staring a chair leg trying to describe a movie (Ryan … Gosling? Wait: Reynolds … er … O’Neal? Let me check my External Brain.) No, I’m not old; I’m just rude.
What’s the solution? Tweet suggestions to #rudeandgoingblindfromlooking10inchesawayallday. Happy Pesach, Happy Easter, and good day.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @uvgvt. Or by opening your mouth and forming words I receive with 2 sensors on my head.
Dear Reader, I‘ve done it again. It’s gorgeous outside and everyone is strolling or gardening and I’m inside. Doing my taxes. At the last minute.
Generally, it seems, humans love to get away with something. Like when my mommy would say I could have “a couple” cookies and I’d take three. A friend still has a stapler from our first job together 30 years ago, technically white collar crime; I’m pretty sure her family would have given her a stapler had she asked. Tax advisors to corporate giants find secret, magical tax loopholes, and their clients are rolling themselves in wallpaper paste and 100-dollar bills, having gleefully denied Uncle Sam his due.
My current scam is the Substitute Task System. Say, I’m supposed to write my column. I don’t feel like it, so I scrub the tub. It’s productive but it feels like I’m getting away with something. Later, when I am to vacuum, I’ll sort a drawer. Write birthday cards? Clean the dashboard with a toothpick. All less of a yawner because they’re not the thing I’m supposed to be doing. Then, when I’m supposed to do my taxes, I’ll write my column. You get the picture. By not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, even if I’m doing something measurably less pleasant, I think I’m getting away with something. Delicious.
Back to taxes. Why do I put this off? Because every year I can’t find some document, or I think the accountant is going to ask me for a document I don’t have and I’ll never get through to the people that can get me the document, lost in an endless loop of recorded phone options (“Press 9 to hear these options again”) as the grains of sand cascade hopelessly through the hourglass’s waist.
Or: kindly people at the library, paid by God, are helping me at no cost in a super lean year. They examine my documents and murmur softly, “Uh oh. She has to file a 27-K19…” because of some 75-cent “dividend” I got in a way I don’t understand. They can’t find the 27-K19 form and the good citizens on line behind me begin melting as their kids circle the library in a frenzy. A hole starts opening in the floor and through the smoke I can see the gates of Hell and I’m going down. I am a bad person. I’m unprepared. I never got rid of the thing producing a 75-cent dividend requiring a 27-K19. I’m inconveniencing the hard-working Americans on line behind me. Run.
Weirdly, I’m not by nature a procrastinator. I dislike putting things off. I could never understand college friends concocting cockamamie excuses to get an extension on a paper – why prolong the agony? An inveterate list-maker, little gives me more satisfaction than (a) lining tasks up and (b) knocking them down. Saturday morning is my favorite. A whole DAY to check items off the list. Brilliant!
But filing taxes is simply, for many, an odyssey fraught with peril. One wrong move and it’s Hefty Fine City plus Audited For Life. I’ve done my taxes last-minute in all ways: on paper with an instruction booklet, via affordable accountant, via pricey accountant avec late filing fee (his idea), via kindly people paid by God to help those in a super lean year, by phone (before Al Gore invented the Internet), and with TurboTax (after Al Gore invented the Internet). My suggestion: TurboTax. Start it, ignore it for a few days, and they’ll halve the price to lure you back. Score.
That lucky reward aside, procrastination is ultimately unsatisfying because you’re not getting away with something. In the end, it has to get done. All the sweating and hair pulling and the crying and the bloodletting wreak yet again their senseless damage when you could easily have dealt with things earlier during a blizzard instead, and gone frolicking outdoors with everyone else on a gorgeous Palm Sunday.
Could it, Dear Reader, have been gorgeous that earlier weekend, and a snowstorm this? No, it could not. Mother Nature collaborates with God at tax time to punish human laggards for dillydallying. Hades is the only stop on this terrible annual journey across the River Styx aboard the S.S. Procrastination. It’s not a local, it’s an express. The doors will not open until the last stop and you cannot get off and you know exactly where you’re headed and it’s nobody’s fault but your own that you got on board. Good day.
HOT TIP FROM A LOCAL: A tax-prep service apparently accessible to 70% of Americans, but only 2% use it because no one knows about it: irs.gov/freefile.
I don’t know where to begin in trying to make sense out of 2016 for Dear Reader. In my current state of beleaguered puzzlement I am unqualified. It says something about this past year that so many watched Gilmore Girls (fanciful escapism), and guests who said they were coming to our holiday party simply didn’t show (boggled torpor…or home watching GG).
Observing actual, known stars in the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies this year, these oeuvres normally populated by actors you’ve never heard of, I had to wonder: desperate for work or, like most of us, just trying to contribute something positive in a world gone mad while wearing a corrective overblouse* to conceal unsightly swags of waistmeat?
What a year. The departures of Prince, Bowie, Shandling, Frey, Ali, Wilder, Cohen, Palmer, Zsa Zsa, Michaels, Princess Leia and her funny mom, and Wessonality ~ and that’s just the celebrities. Olympic swimming shenanigans and women’s gymnastics gold. Refugees tossed about the globe. The Cubs. A female announcer at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gushing at a Victoria’s Secret model on live television about what an “honor” it must be to wear the Fantasy Bra. Women my age everywhere trotting around in stilettos – an orthopedic surgeon’s dream. Throw in, oh, the election and its aftermath, with the promise of a completely bizarre year ahead, and you have undiluted global befuddlement.
Now I’m not a strict party voter. I vote for the seemingly best candidate. Some of my truest friends are republicans, libertarians, anarchists, apoliticos, and members of the blissful ignorati. I’m not that smart myself. I had no answer when a young person asked at Thanksgiving, “Are there any vegetarian republicans?” I don’t know. Are there?
I don’t trouble myself with politics much because it’s evidently out of my control; at my advanced age I don’t fret about the uncontrollable unless it involves immediate family or friends. I’m old. Not old-old. Not Crazy Old Duffer with a limited range of movement old, not bumbling around Mr. Magoo old. Just tired old. Not-that-hopeful old. Old enough to speculate about some great feat I might accomplish, or imagine some sooper piece of good fortune that might come my way, ponder this notion briefly, and go, “Nah.” I’m pretty much just trying to avoid pain at this point.
Old. I embarrass myself with antiquated references. At work I mention interoffice mail, pneumatic tubes, or Telex… at parties I’ll bring up Schweddy Balls, Lemon-freshened Borax or the Hooterville Cannnonball, exclaiming hilariously, “Book ’em, Danno,” or “Where’s the beef?” while lurching around the buffet like an old jalopy, the young people rolling their eyes — Where’d you dig up this old dino? — as their parents laugh heartily, if not without a certain flushed derangement, at my archaic allusions.
A friend is using paper flash cards to get through school; she has to make them because flash cards are digital now. You can’t find a taxi, what with the Uber takeover, which I wouldn’t mind except I can’t figure out the Uber app half the time. Is a car coming? Did I order one? I can’t tell. I can’t even see my phone.
One excuse for our escalating idiocy is that we work long hours and are routinely exposed to an excess of information. There’s little free time. We end up doing everything too fast. Emails I send are definitely not carefully read by their recipients; if I ask 3 questions, I’m lucky to get 2 answered. I think I read things carefully, but I guess not. I saw in an office notice that some employees will be “executed” where it really said “excluded” (seemed harsh). I interpreted a bulletin board’s “selectboard meeting” as “skateboard meeting” (more fun!). I misread a newspaper headline, Signs of Natural Resources on Mars, as Signs of Human Resources on Mars. (Did they find, like, on the planetary surface, an HR pamphlet, Respecting Other Martians in the Workplace & Grooming Guidelines?) I think I remember everything. Yet a friend insists that “chocolate bedroom antics” is something we discussed recently with big laffs. Zero recollection. Old.
Suggestion for 2017: tune out and slow down. Do less. Device less. Pay attention in conversation. Go to the movies. Read a magazine. Sort a drawer. Take a nap. Love. Do one thing at a time. You might actually remember it. Good day, good luck and – let’s hope – good year.
*Nod to Zora
Twitter handle: @uvgvt.
I don’t know why I was thanking God, but Siri overheard me. So I Googled “Questions to Ask Siri.” — a truly awful way to waste time. And wicked old hat. Everyone has asked her by now if she’s hot. Or rich. Kinky. Etc.
Surely Siri has gotten people into trouble. Philandering people. People messaging bosses by mistake. The possibilities are endless in Modern Tymes. Not that we need Siri to screw up; she just makes it more asinine when we do.
And now a tribute. To the mighty, the daunting, the beloved…the list.
I don’t have a real bucket list. If I did, Disney World® wouldn’t be on it; I didn’t know it was any good. I went to Disney in my 40s by chance. When most people hear, “I’m goin’ to Disney World!” they think Sooperbowl. I think: time capsule, spinning teacups manned by deranged nieces, and Christmas parades with “princes” in wigs with many hair follicles per square inch. Also: pack well. Unexpected weather and unplanned befoulment demand backup.
While a winter trip to a theme park ain’t exactly Christmas in New England, a good way to steel yourself is to get a flu shot then go to one. Disney’s a good bet because as the sweat of many nations and the sputum of the Lands settles upon you, you are exposed to virtually every germ currently available. It is, after all, a small world, certainly for a microbe. And as you build character standing on lines for rides and hear songs that won’t leave your head ever, you leave the prior year behind entirely—often a good idea.
-Will all the lines be this long?
-I don’t think this line actually goes anywhere.
– It makes the line longer.
-We’re definitely under surveillance.
-Disney World is a young man’s game.
-I don’t want to go peeeeeeee peeeeeeeeeee! (said by more than one child from more than one nation in more than one Land on more than one day.)
-This. Line. Is. Going. Nowhere.
Lists! Weekends generate lengthy lists. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down. Dump? Check! Tenny? Check!! Margherita – rocks – salt at Richardson’s Tavern? Checkarooni. Another…good day.
On to the prescient populist predictions for 2015, submitted by you the people from ME to FL, NH to CA:
North America will break up along the Mississippi and drift apart.
Angelina Jolie will have an affair with Jennifer Aniston.
Office betting pools explode on which former Disney child star will implode next.
Congress will be fined for not working; fined members will be unable to run again.
3D printing will be applied to implants from cheek to calf.
Jenna Bush Hager and Chelsea Clinton will decide to run for president in 2016.
With cheap gas, the price of vintage Hummers will strengthen.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will steal the rights to his own life story from himself, then turn it into a multi-billion dollar video game called Zuckerville, a place where he has the rights to all players’ personal information. Suckerville?
The first smart refrigerator will arrive, voicing the caloric, fat, sodium, sugar, protein and fiber content inside. It will lock after 8pm and won’t admit entrance until 6am.
Texas will secede.
Quebec will secede.
Killington will secede.
Punxsutawney Phil will be canned when he is bitten by a vampire and no longer casts a shadow.
ISIS will splinter off into new factions, one of which by year’s end will become the world’s most popular boy band.
More people will buy VW campers and park in Walmart lots to avoid campground fees, accumulating decals for amusement parks, roadside attractions, and states.
Americans will be required to rescue an animal by paying for its care or adopting it.
Putin will come out as gay, step down as President, and marry figure skater Johnny Weir.
The inane patter on award ceremony red carpets will worsen.
People will leave [followed by unintelligible gibberish].
I will be befuddled by new social media I’m supposed to master (Yik Yak?).
I will not gain weight (glad you said fake.)
I will stick to my New Year’s resolution to be happy and smile at everyone I meet.
I’m going to have sex every day.
Due to Equatorial Vortex Irene, we’ll have 90-degree days at the end of February.
Candidates vying for the presidency will optimistically fund new dog breeds, the Dachsoodleman (dachshund, +poodle + Doberman) and Cockzerstiff (Cocker Spaniel +Schaunzer + Mastiff) for his/her Whitehouse dog .
And my ties for Personal Favorite:
Rather than “predict, I “wish” we could all just slow down, get our faces out of electronic devices and embrace the outdoors…but silly me, then corporations wouldn’t make bank.
We will have weather.
A unifying figure will emerge.
When you hate change as much as I do, things that remain constant are a necessary comfort. Holiday traditions that recur year after year, such as Randolph’s caroling with Santa’s arrival on the green, Woodstock’s horsey Wassail Parade, the Holly Jolly project, and mitten trees provide the longboard I need to surf life’s erratic vicissitudes.
Wrapping presents while watching treacly movies on Lifetime (theme: buff, middle-aged guy new to town chooses charmingly disorganized single mother over outfit-wearing sports-car/golfing lady) or the Hallmark Channel (title: A Bride for Christmas) soothes my holiday prep time no matter what’s going in real life. Which might not be all that good. I’m not mocking these shows. Christmas in Conway enchants, and The Christmas Hope is a bawler. I’m a sap. Akin to treacle.
Another lifesaver is the expressionless decorative light-up pilgrim I bought years ago at Rite-Aid. About three feet high, he gets dusty after a year in storage and I have a good hoot washing him off every November when I get to his little plastic fanny. Should have purchased the whole expressionless family (stalwart group!). And when Grandma Al and her granddaughter make magic cookies (not the Grateful Dead kind) in their aprons, or I look up Alex Hanson’s gravy recipe online yet again, all is right in the world.
Everything changes so fast now we can’t keep up. My fairly new TV is apparently already a “dino” (cable installer guy didn’t think I’d understand this high-tech lexicon on phone call to his mother ship in front of me—get a less obvious code word, pally!), and suddenly we don’t need to connect our computers to a cable for internet connectivity at home, even without a router (what?). My shiny, year-old TV remote is archaic, outmoded, useless; my router obsolete. Cableboy won’t take any of it away with him.
What do I do with these antiquated accoutrements? The remote, the cables, the router…are others pouring same into landfill? Je refuse! I’ll find a home for them if it kills me. When I said to the Comcast guy and the TV wall-mounter guy in my living room, “Wow, I didn’t know you could tilt the TV like that on its brackets, there should be a remote for that,” they looked at me like I was some kind of sci-fi future-predicting genius. “I’ve never seen that!” one said. But I don’t want another damn remote. All I need is a sled, snow pants, hot cocoa with marshmallows, gift wrap, Jingle Bell Rock, and some people. That stuff doesn’t need upgrading. It never gets old.
Change: no! I like when people do their lights the exact same way every year. There is a little blue-lit tree outside somewhere (Tunbridge?) that, unlike nieces, never seems to grow up. That’s good. It’s distressing when houses change hands and the usual trimmings change or disappear. Driving by my parents’ empty house is saddening. It’s been empty in winter in recent years, but this time it’s permanent – and no change is worse than permanent change. When the Barnard General store quit selling penny candy 30 years ago, I never recovered. It’s all still there, right where it belongs, the little wax bottles filled with colored ick, the caramels and the Smarties®, in my mind.
Some change is not so awful. That I moved from my beloved Bethel — not great. But I stay over a friend’s house (whom I used to live so close to that staying over never occurred to us) and we have spiked nog by the Christmas tree after her cat punches me repeatedly while I write (love the Siamese—naugh-ty) and, well, maybe a new tradition is in the making. When the old traditions fall off, due to death or dismemberment or some horrible new technology, they need replacing or we’re left with nothing.
I’ll start one now. Something you can see and think, “Oh good, there’s that thing again. A constant!”
You may enjoy what autofills in Google’s search box before you finish typing … endlessly amusing. Monthly, I might post the winners. For December:
“Does a…” autofills with
-root canal hurt
-duck’s quack echo
-photon have mass?
Et voila. Your inaugural autofill of the month. Little gift fer ya there, as you jingle around the clock. Good day.
Bumper Sticker Suggested by Harry One Year Ago when I Wrote we Were Told as Children (by the Catholics?) That Writing “Xmas” Instead of Christmas was Literally a Sin:
Let’s keep the X in Xmas!
A friend requested a column on weird modern phenomena, like how we stand in front of doors now and expect them to magically open. He named our dismay when it doesn’t happen: Automatic Envy. After traveling, you expect the home faucet to run when you put your hands under it. I’ve hit the back button on my car’s (obsolete?) CD player because I missed what someone on the (oops) radio said. And who doesn’t want to Undo? All signs of the Apocalypse. (Repent!)
Last week a diamond fell out of a homemade ring I own. Gone forever. Didn’t care. I lose my phone for 24 hours? Panic. A girl’s best friend used to be diamonds. Now it’s a radio frequency transmitter -receiver.
If you ask older people (50+) if they’d rather travel backwards or forwards in time, they mostly say backwards. The YPs* say forwards — because they dread neither horrific new developments nor the vexations embedded in modernity’s [alleged] conveniences. Dear Reader knows of my distaste for modern tymes. The punishments in Game of Thrones faze me not (, my Lord). I’ll take a cat-o-nine tail flogging over the horror of forwarding an e-mail to the wrong person any day of the week.
Polling (electronically!) my friends for their modern peeves, the response was uproar. From technophobe to misanthrope, they went OFF. I have categorized (and sanitized) them for your reading pleasure.
When did sending an email become a good way to end a 6-month relationship? The whole idea of “selfies.” Surveillance. People who don’t read your entire e-mail (what, they’re too busy?), then ask questions you’ve already answered (Now I’m too busy!) Internet bullying – comments made by cowards. How complicit we are daily in giving up control over our personal information. Notices from Linked In—who cares?! People who think Facebook solves all communication situations; people who change their portrait daily. Social media: enough already. When people haven’t tested equipment/remotes for their PowerPoint or whatever and it doesn’t work; for the love of God, go in EARLY! Phony, planted e-mails like “A great company is interested in you!” When my long e-mail disappears just before I hit Send. The buffering signal cycling while waiting for the Internet to do something. PASSWORDS. And [from a tech genius:] People who refuse to make an effort to understand technology.
Trucks’ infernal backing-up beeping. Loud TV commercials. Radio commercials with dangerous driving-distraction sounds (cell phone sounds, sirens, bells). Leaf-blowers – get a rake!
Telephones—the quality is crap now; I used to be able to HEAR people when I talked to them on the phone. Friends toying with their phones (no eye contact, constantly checking their devices). Morons having loud cell phone convos in stores — or your car. Robocalls. Checking phone messages on three @#$! phones. Automated phone “receptionists.” When people call you and immediately say “Hold on.” That every new phone requires different chargers. How everyone has a preferred method of communicating – text, phone, email, FB. If your way doesn’t match your friend’s, you NEVER talk.
A GPS takes you to a wall/obscure goat path. Left lane drivers refusing to pass the car next to them or driving in the left lane when there is no one in the right lane. Massachusetts drivers. Unorganized travelers in front of me on the TSA line. No one has manners anymore –could people say excuse me while they shove past you in a crowd? Hell no!
People needing to record every moment on devices rather than actually experiencing the moments. Interviewers who ask questions & don’t let the person answer as they keep on jawing. Reality TV glamorizing rude, competitive individuals with faces so distorted from plastic surgery they look like “the Hunger Games.” “Parties” where my “friends” are selling items I do not need but feel obligated to buy; I could stay home, drink better wine, and save my money. “Tweet us live at hashtag [whatever]!” Everyone writing a YA novel.
Corporate jargon. Acronyms. Branding. Modern sayings like “It’s a no brainer,” or “Reframe it.” People saying “literally” when they mean “figuratively” blow my figurative head off. The attitude of being horribly offended within “Really?” and “Seriously?” People who say “Hash tag xyz” (#peeves) in real life. Apostrophes wrongly before the letter “s” (= the Vermont Special). Use of “I” where “me” is objectively called for. Mangled common expressions (“A tough road to hoe”), called eggcorns by linguists.
Truffles. The Cloud. Millennials. How countries still invade other countries. Kids in hazardous situations while parents text. Celebrity perfumes. The new light bulbs. Archaic contagions resurfacing. Hand sanitizer. Too many things in my life. Stores using a decimal point and the cent sign (.35¢), meaning the item is less than 1 penny. Open floor plan office spaces. Media reporting a story before the facts are proven. Gluten-free. How we can’t learn the price of medical procedures ahead of time. Tip jars at Starbucks, DD, etc. Pomegranate in EVERYTHING. Dog owners who let their dogs bark at, sniff, or mate you. People not washing their hands in the restroom—many of them out there. Families ignorant of Hot Tub Etiquette. My achin’ back. My mother.
And finally, from my misanthrope: Calling tech support; smart phones, stupid people; people.
And there you have it. You didn’t ask, but me, I’m going back in time. Catch you at Stonehenge (, Sassenach!) Good day.
Suggested Bumper Sticker from Braintree Naked Swim Club:
IT’S A NICE DAY FOR A RED WEDDING;
IT’S A NICE DAY TO THRONE AGAIN.
From slender filaments to giant cables, spools get the job done right. The big daddy on the left appeared down the road a piece. It made my day.
My sister-in-law, an extremely talented fiber artist, has dozens of spools. I have a lowly 30. If you’ve never wound a bobbin on a sewing machine before, you’re missing out. If mankind wound more bobbins, there’d be less misery and lower crime rates.
This place, El Taller (“The Studio”), in Lawrence, MA is a cool coffee shop with books and…spools. They write in your coffee. What’s better than that?