Turnabout: switching roles
June 6, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

The passage of time has an unpleasant way of adjusting our attitudes with the abruptness of being slapped upside the old coconut with the business end of a large halibut.

This occurred to me recently while I was basking in the glow of a small victory over technology, which, in my world, is something that doesn’t happen often these days.

I had just successfully programmed one of those universal remote controls to replace three that had been cluttering up my side table.

There are 131 total buttons (I counted) on the three remotes I replaced, and since I haven’t the faintest idea what some of them were for, I am confident that I won’t miss them.

The programming probably took me several times as long as the manufacturer envisioned the job would take, and my digits were sore from pushing all those buttons, but this minor accomplishment made me as giddy as a lamb in springtime. I was surprisingly proud of myself for this accomplishment.

It occurred to me that there was a time when I wouldn’t have given a second thought to such an insignificant event, but time has changed all that.

As anyone who is north of 40 knows, dealing with electronics gets tougher with each passing year.

First of all, I have paws not unlike those of a grizzly bear of the Rocky Mountain region of western Montana, and pushing and holding the correct tiny buttons in the right order, and continuing to hold them while pushing other tiny buttons and watching to see when the power button lit up and when each device responded was a challenge.

Then, there is the memory thing. I can remember things that happened 20 years ago with infinite clarity, but remembering a string of instructions that I just read taxes my meager abilities.

Finally, there is the reading issue. It is not so much a matter of comprehending the instructions; it is a matter of seeing them.

Companies are printing instructions much smaller than they used to. I know that for a fact. Reading six pages of instructions in four point type took all of my concentration.

I must have looked like a demented owl as I peered at the instructions while trying to accomplish manual acrobatics with the remote.

My vision is excellent. The problem is my arms. They aren’t always long enough to hold things far enough away for me to read them.

In this project, there were four or five different ways to program each device, and it was necessary to work down the list to at least the third option in each case. That is a lot of button-pushing.

I persevered and achieved victory, a victory that was sweeter because we did not have to resort to any bad language, did not hurl the remote out (or through) the nearest window in frustration, and we did not have to call a kid for help.

It was about that time I realized that I used to be on the other side of this equation.

I have never been a technical wizard, but when I was younger I tackled this kind of thing with the confidence of St. George slaying that dragon.

The world is so arranged that people of a certain age look to younger people to help them with technical and electronic challenges. This is the natural order of things.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was one of the people who was offering the help.

I was always happy so to do, but I admit to experiencing a small internal sense of superiority when I was completing these trivial tasks for others.

I was horrified to realize that soon I could be the one who has to ask for help whenever some young person visits.

Part of the difficulty is that they keep making things smaller.

Cell phones used to be the size of bricks, and keyboards of all kinds were actually big enough to accommodate one’s fingers.

Things are getting so tiny they are difficult for some of us to use.

I could easily press three keys at a time when typing on my phone (and sometimes I do). This can lead to outcomes that are less than satisfactory.

In the arrogance of our youth (or near youth), we used to laugh with great gusto when we saw advertisements for those phones with simple controls and giant buttons designed for old people.

We reveled in our smug sense of superiority, because we were sure we would never need these devices that were marketed for the old-timers.

For some reason, those commercials don’t seem so funny as they used to.

We have seen the writing on the wall, and it spells danger.

I will relish my victory over the universal remote, but I realize that even though this battle may have gone my way, the war is far from over.

I will continue to combat technology, the mortal enemy of aging.

Whatever the cost may be, I will fight it on the beaches, I will fight it on the landing grounds, I will fight it in the fields and in the streets. I will fight it in the hills, but I shall never surrender.

I can’t help wondering though, how many more victories I will achieve before I am forced to relinquish control of my technical affairs and put my trust in a student.

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