JUDY’S ADVENTURES WITH SIRI

My dear friend and fellow Luddite Judy has come a long way since she purchased her iPhone three weeks ago. Judy sent me a text from her iPhone, an email from her iPhone, and she recounted the following adventures with her iPhone. As Judy so eloquently put it, to share this story “…is for the good of The Luddite Chronicles as well as the fame and fortune it will bring me.”

LUDDITE: Why did you acquire your new iPhone?

JUDY: It was time.  My oldest daughter is 10 years-old, and I wanted to learn to text before she did.  Texting on my old phone was time-consuming and limited to short words without punctuation.  In addition, I feared that my old phone would suddenly stop working.  It had been difficult to charge for the past 5 years ever since I let my then-infant daughter chew and drool on it thereby corroding the metal around the charging element.  My husband had an iPhone and suggested that we “sync” our contacts and calendars (which I happily keep in written form in an old-fashioned Day Runner) through a new iPhone for me.  I reluctantly acquiesced.
LUDDITE: It must be very difficult to navigate the needs of three children and attend to your new iPhone. How do you do it?

JUDY: I don’t.  I have no idea how to really use all the gizmos on the phone. However, I do know better than to let my children chew or drool on it.

LUDDITE: Were you able to answer your new iPhone right away, or did you need instruction? Other than answering, what else can you do on your phone?

JUDY: I have always been able to answer it, probably since I have had practice answering my husband’s iPhone.  I am learning how to send text messages (It makes such a cool sound!) and I can read and send e-mails.

LUDDITE: What exactly is Siri, why does Siri speak, and when she does, what do you do?

JUDY: Siri is a little voice that emanates from my phone and asks me how it can help.  It is supposed to be revolutionary.  You can ask Siri to do things for you like “call Jill Shulman” or “find an Italian restaurant nearby” or remind you to do things.  I don’t think that it will actually do things for you like fold the laundry or go grocery shopping, but it would be nice.  I did figure out that it would talk to me whenever I held the phone vertically and was thankfully able to reset it to only talk when I press a button.  Once it reminded me to “pick up Hannah.”  At the time, I thought that Siri was somehow assigning me additional carpool duties since there was no one named Hannah who I thought needed picking up by me.  Then I realized that my husband had linked his iPhone calendar to mine and I was getting his reminders.  I assumed that Siri had mis-heard his instructions, and it was really a reminder to pick up our daughter, Anna.  At least I hope so.

LUDDITE: On the day in question, why were you shopping for slippers, purple mist, and an iPhone cover?

JUDY: On the day in question, I was on a power shopping excursion that needed to be completed quickly so that I could pick up my three children from their half-day at school. I had already purchased purple cellophane to create the purple mist of the Berkshires for my son’s social studies project, attempted to buy bear slippers for my son for Slipper Day, and returned 7 pairs of pants that were either too big or too small for my youngest daughter.  I still had to buy hamster bedding for our three dwarf hamsters and select a Chinese-themed dessert for my oldest daughter’s book club (later canceled because the hostess was diagnosed with strep throat). I stopped at the Apple store on a whim, hoping to quickly select a cover for my new phone.

LUDDITE: Did they have what you were looking for at the Apple store? Did you even know what to ask for? Please describe your harrowing experience at check-out.

JUDY: All of the Apple sales clerks seemed pleasant and eager to help.  However, they offered no clear direction on the type of cover to buy…hard shell, candy shell (hard on the outside, rubbery on the inside) or rubbery all around.  “It is all personal preference” and made “no difference” in the amount of protection provided was what they said.  I mulled it over for a while, checked my watch, and then reluctantly chose a turquoise candy shell. Since I had my new iPhone in hand, a smiling clerk directed me to Express Checkout where another smiling clerk was waiting.  As I handed him my credit card, he said that I could complete my purchase myself if I had the Apple Store AP.  I stared at him blankly for a moment, then searched for it on my phone.  I found it!  Success!  I opened the application and a screen opened asking for a password. My husband, again wanting us “in sync”, had linked our phones but failed to give me the password.  I tried a few that I thought might work to no avail.  The clerk was still encouraging.  I considered my options:  call my husband, wait for his receptionist to patch the call through, exchange pleasantries, explain the situation, wait for him to remember the appropriate password and so on.  I then begged the clerk to take my credit card, which he did with some reluctance.  He then suggested that I attend a workshop at the Apple Store to learn about my new iPhone.

LUDDITE: Now that you have an iPhone, do you feel cooler, hipper, and more connected?

JUDY: Do I feel hipper or cooler?  These are not words that I have used to describe myself since I started driving a mini-van and carrying baby wipes and Wiki-stiks in my purse.

LUDDITE: Would you recommend the iPhone or Siri to others?

JUDY: The other day, I accidentally hit the button on my phone and Siri asked if she could help with anything.  I said, “Nothing, thank you.”  She replied, “Your satisfaction is all the gratitude I require.”  Who is in there?!  I have decided that I will try to understand more about the magic that is in my iPhone.  If time allows, I might even try a workshop.

LESSON LEARNED: It is time to upgrade my phone.

YOU’RE EVITED

I look at my house differently when I’m about to entertain. I see it from the point of view of a guest. If I were walking into my house, but it was someone else’s house, I would surely not want to see the stack of junk mail on the kitchen counter, the pile of soccer cleats and rain boots scattered in the entryway, or the filthy little sock balls dotting the living room floor. Or maybe I would want to see these things. Perhaps I’d feel better just knowing there were other C- parents–or dare I say C- people—like myself out there with less than spotless houses. I used to plan far enough in advance to tidy my house before guests arrived and to send out paper invitations. However this year, the Jewish high holy days snuck up on me, and for the Yom Kippur break fast I hosted at my house, I sent an online Evite.

I have a number of fears when I throw a party. One of my fears is that I will make someone feel bad by inadvertently leaving her out. Therefore, I want to reiterate that my event was a post-Yom Kippur break fast, so if this pertained to you in any way (Jewish, half Jewish, a quarter Jewish and fasting, fasting in solidarity with someone Jewish, someone I know who would be offended if you weren’t invited), you were more than welcome and will be welcome again next year, whether you receive an Evite or not. Another fear I always have is that there won’t be enough food, especially for an event like this one capping off a day of purposeful starvation, so I always cook enough for the entire US Airforce plus half of the Marines. Though it will require therapy rather than a computer to assuage the fears confessed above, I am pleased to announce that I conquered another more recently hatched party-host-related fear. Fear of the Evite.

I have received Evites, I have answered Evites, but I had never before created my own Evite. The first part was like shopping for stationary, which was destined to be a positive experience because any type of shopping automatically places me in a state of semi-nirvanah. Of course, choosing a design for the invitation brought up all sorts of questions. Do I go with the ugly, drab brown but appropriate Star of David? Should I select a simple green background? Do I go out on a limb and brighten up this relatively somber holiday with a design intended for a bachelor party, changing the message from “Let’s Do Happy Hour!” to “Let’s Atone!”?

Finally, I selected a tasteful orange card with a white flower border called “Harvest Bloom”, and it was time to address the Evites. This brought up etiquette conundrums. I couldn’t just write “Miller Family” as if it were a paper invitation because everyone, even the kids, had their own email addresses. If I sent an Evite to every single person invited, three people in the same family could respond for four guests, and it would be impossible to keep the numbers straight. If I addressed an Evite to one responsible grown-up from each family, would the others be offended? Call me sexist, ageist, what have you, but I decided to send my Evite to the moms because in my experience, it’s the moms who most often oversee the family calendar (see my post THE CALENDAR INSIDE OF MY HEAD).

I input the addresses and the particulars for the party, and then I froze. Full disclosure, here, regarding yet more fears. Though I overcame my fear of pressing any computer key a couple of months ago (see my post ENTERING THE BLOGOSPHERE), I was still afraid to press “send”. You see, if I’d typed the time wrong, someone could show up before I’d transferred the stack of junk mail from the kitchen counter to the linen closet. If I’d typed the date wrong, someone (not very religious) could ring my doorbell carrying a kugel twenty-four hours before the event. These fears may sound irrational to you, but other fears regarding the pressing of “send” may ring true. Have you ever pressed “reply all” when you meant to just hit “reply”? Have you ever sent an email to the wrong person altogether?  It can be ugly, email mistakes, so I checked and rechecked my Evite until it was almost time for parent pick-up, and then I closed my eyes and gave the “send” button a dainty little poke.

People started responding, only the message on every response said the same thing: “What should I bring?” As if reading my mind, Evite sent me a little spreadsheet to display requests for food contributions. Then thirty-six hours before the event, five people had not yet responded, translating to about twenty people when you factor in the rest of their families. This was when I second-guessed my decision not to send the Evite to the men and the teens. However in the end, everyone arrived and feasted at our break fast, and I have to say that sending an Evite was one of the more user-friendly, rewarding experiences of my online life to date. I feel proud that I made the invitation, proud that I pressed “send”, and proud that this year on Yom Kippur, I made it fasting all the way until the caffeine headache set in around two o’clock, which is impressive for me, especially since I was cooking.

Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to press send.

BAD NEWS

My friend Meg, another self-proclaimed Luddite, told me that if she could create a Powerpoint presentation, anyone could create one. I decided to call her bluff.

Microsoft Office Powerpoint offers templates if you choose the option “presentation auto content wizard” that appears beside the magic wand icon. I interpreted the wand as a sign that with the help of magic, I could do this. One template was entitled “bad news”. It was meant for companies who needed to inform employees that salaries had been cut or lay offs were imminent.  However, I followed this template and prepared a presentation for my teenage daughter in an effort to gently break to her why she couldn’t attend the middle school social if she didn’t clean up her room. Specifically, I was being driven insane by hearing my own voice repeatedly asking her to remove the airbed that was still inflated in the center of her room for a sleepover that had occurred three weeks prior. I thought perhaps the calmer, more professional approach of a Powerpoint presentation might work to make that airbed disappear into the closet where it belonged. In parentheses, I have included the helpful instructions for conveying bad news, provided by the Powerpoint people.

Slide 1, Presentation Title: After Inflation Comes Deflation

Slide 2: Our Situation (State the bad news. Be clear. Don’t try to obscure the situation.)

◆Do you remember when your friend slept over 3 weeks ago? The airbed is still in your room, inflated and made up as if we have taken on a boarder, despite numerous requests for disassembly.

◆Put the bed and bedding away or there will be no social for you on Friday night.

Slide 3: How did this happen? (Impart any relevant history, facts, strategies, and original assumptions that are no longer valid.)

◆Up to this point, we have allowed you to act like a squatter in this house while you do squat to help out.

◆You may assume that things are not about to change and that Mommy will, in the end, put the airbed away. However, this time our threat is documented in writing, making it much more likely that there will be follow-through.

Slide 4: Alternatives Considered (Present alternative courses of action. Discuss pros/cons of each.)

◆Agreeably dismantling the bed will be the most effective way for you to end up at the social.

◆Dismantling the bed while stomping around and occasionally screaming “I hate you” will still land you at the social, but may bring you other, unforeseen consequences.

◆Assuming Mommy will dismantle the bed will bring nothing good your way.

Slide 5: Recommendation or Decision (State the recommended course of action or decision. Discuss how recommendation addresses the problem. Discuss how plan will address hardships resulting from action.)

◆ We strongly recommend you return the blankets to the linen closet and deflate that bed pronto.

◆ This will restore your privilege of attending the social, for it is a privilege, not the entitlement you seem to think it is.

◆ We know that physical labor, even for the 5 minutes it will take to put away an airbed, is a daunting prospect for you. However, if you decide to follow the recommended course of action, you may attend the social, and your home life will be better due to the return of your mother’s affection for you, not to mention her sanity. As an added bonus, you will feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing actual work for a change.

Slide 6: Our Vision for the Future (Reaffirm your goals, set expectations for future, and set a time for expected results.)

◆Deal with the airbed, the blankets, the pillow, and while you’re at it, start a load of laundry.

◆During the three weeks you have delayed cleaning up your room, we have come to realize that laundry will be a good job for you to take on in the future.

◆The social starts at 7:00PM. You know what you must do if you want to dance with your peers to the tune of “I’m Sexy and I Know It”.

Slide 7: Summary (Key points to remember that will give audience confidence or improve morale.)

◆You love socializing.

◆Your parents love to be listened to and helped around the house.

◆If you listen to your parents and help around the house, you can socialize as well as become a productive family member.

◆In the privacy of your clean, airbed-free room, you will have space galore to stew about your evil mother.

Lesson learned: Though anyone may be able to create a Powerpoint presentation, no one can force a teenager to heed it.

TALKIN’ TECH

I have had a breakthrough. I took a walk with my friend Britt, enjoying New England’s flamboyant fall leaves, and she told me that she was giving her son an Xbox for his birthday. She told me about the Xbox, a black box you rig to your television set (much like the numerous boxes rigged to our TV. See my post REMOTE AND REMOTER.). This Xbox then becomes a conduit for video games, and Britt told me that it accesses Netflix as well. The first part of my breakthrough involved Netflix.

When Britt said she had trouble finding The Good Wife on Netflix through their new Xbox, I sighed deeply and told her, “Yeah, that’s because you can’t access nearly as much content on Netflix anymore.”

“How do you know?” Britt asked.

“Because we can stream Netflix through our Wii,” I responded. Notice how I used the word “stream” as a verb.

“Does that have something to do with Netflix splitting into two companies?” asked Britt.

“No, no,” I said, with an all-knowing head shake. “Netflix canceled its offshoot, Quickster, after a customer uproar, so that’s not the problem. The problem is that Starz Entertainment pulled their content from Netflix, and with the sparse selection, it’s no wonder you can’t access The Good Wife episodes.” Can you believe this was me, the Luddite, talking?

Britt couldn’t believe it either. “Listen to you,” she said.

“What?” I demured. I still did not understand the extent of the breakthrough I was having.

“You’re talkin’ tech. That’s what!” Britt applauded.

That’s when I realized I was talkin’ tech. I knew enough about technology that I didn’t dodge the subject when it came up. I didn’t tune it out or cower in a corner and cry. I had embraced the topic of the Xbox and Netflix and contributed to it. This was part one of my breakthrough.

Part two of my breakthrough occurred after Britt and I parted ways. It involved the resurrection of my left-brain power. For the bulk of my adult life, I have zoned out when left-brain governed topics have come up (see my post CAT/MINT). I had assumed the muscles in the left hemisphere of my brain had atrophied from lack of exercise and were lost forever, but based on my recent conversation with Britt, I recognized that my left-brain just may be back in action. First, I thought of all of the IKEA furniture I had assembled with an allen key. Maybe I’d been mildly toning the left hemisphere of my cerebrum all along. Then my mind wandered to the part of our conversation when Britt had described how her husband had rigged the Xbox to their television set and had tested it to see if it worked.

At this point, my left-brain was exercising more than it has exercised in the last twenty-five years combined. The equivalent of a high intensity cardio workout was going on inside of my head. I envisioned not the finished product of the fully rigged Xbox, but the process of the rigging itself. I pictured myself with an exacto knife slicing open the box containing the machine, reading the directions, and then setting up this complex electronic device myself rather than handing the Xbox to my Help Desk who would presumably know what to do. I would know what to do, and maybe if I had done the opening, the reading, and the rigging, I would know how to use the thing once it was assembled. Not that I care about playing video games, but I’ll bet there are a few shows left on Netflix worth watching.

To recap, I’ll use a diagram. I admitted to being a Luddite. → I tackled technology that has always scared me using the tools of attitude adjustment and humor maintenance. → Amid my misadventures, I have had some successes that have given me the wherewithal and confidence to persevere. → Which has boosted my self-esteem, my interest in technology, and my proficiency → Which has given me the confidence to talk tech as well as manipulate technology → Case in point, I found the right facing arrow symbol again (see my post IT’S ALL IN THE JOURNEY) and was able to insert it correctly into this diagram within twenty minutes and with no tears. → I can also add the following characters to any document at will: ♥ ☠ (miscellaneous), Ŏþęŕã (Accented Latin), ⠿⠼ (Braille), ҦӜѮѨ҂ (Cyrillic), and ᏈᏊᏠᎦ (Cherokee). I do not know what I just wrote in Braille, Cyrillic, or Cherokee, so please accept my sincere apology if it was anything offensive. → Left hemisphere cerebrum resurectus!

Admittedly, part two of my breakthrough is still in the fantasy stage. I haven’t rigged an Xbox yet, and I understand that if we bought an Xbox, a) I would have something to answer for on Mint.com (again, I refer to my post CAT/MINT), b) When trying to rig it up, I would potentially lose the technology-related self-esteem I have garnered, and c) I would have to live with an eleven-year-old son with a melted brain from playing too many video games (see my post BURNING MAN). Perhaps what my family needs more than an Xbox is a new computer for their mother. Then I could try to rig that up myself, which would go beyond merely exercising my withered left-brain muscles. It would be more like forcing my left-brain to run a marathon. However, at the end of that marathon, Mommy would have a new computer, and just imagine the breakthroughs I could achieve. Now we’re really talkin’ tech.

Lesson learned: You can learn a lot about any subject, even those you fear, if you stop tuning out and pay attention.

BUDDY SYSTEM

The Sunday New York Times still appears in hard copy at the end of my driveway. However, I now access my weekday newspapers online. National news is always pretty much the same regardless of delivery mode: our country doesn’t have a budget because the Democrats and the Republicans can’t reach an agreement. Sometimes they can’t agree on a jobs bill or an education policy, but regardless of what they can’t agree upon, the sentiment is unchanged. I believe that’s called partisanship, and I have a solution for it.

Whenever I hear Republicans or Democrats referring to their “friends across the aisle” in Congress, I think of my daughter’s Kindergarten class. Among the Kindergarten girls, it was common knowledge that boys had cooties. My daughter’s wise teacher paired each girl with a boy in what’s called a “buddy system”. On school field trips, the buddies sat together on the bus, and sometimes they were even required to hold hands. Out of this system, my daughter formed a friendship with a boy, Alexander, who it turned out did not have cooties after all. My daughter had playdates with Alexander and even invited him to her birthday party (which was, ironically, a tea party).

Imagine the myths that could be dispelled if the buddy system was implemented in Congress. What if each Freshman Democrat was paired with a newly elected Republican beside whom he was required to sit during Congressional sessions? Suddenly, there would be no “aisle” to cross in the House chamber. What if the Representative was required to sit with his buddy on the bus or on Airforce One during work trips? Instead of playdates, the buddies could get to know each other over coffee or a stiff martini. Holding hands and bipartisan birthday parties would not be out of the question. Perhaps if the buddy system were employed in Congress, the Democrats would learn that the Republicans do not have cooties, and vice versa. Perhaps the United States of America would even have a budget.

Lesson learned: Whether you read the newspaper in hard copy or online, the news is the same.

PC AS DRAMA QUEEN

My friend Ray is a very busy and important professor who received this message when trying to log onto his account at the large research university where he teaches:

A FATAL ERROR HAS OCCURRED
DB Error: connect failed
Details have been logged for the administrator.

Ray came to me immediately, perhaps because he was afraid of his demise, or perhaps because he thought I would find humor in it. I felt only concern. Excerpts from our correspondence following this frightening message appear below.

LUDDITE: What is this account to which you were trying to log on?

RAY: My university email account.

LUDDITE: Why were you logging onto it?

RAY: I was logging on partially to check email, but specifically because I had some relatively urgent messages to get out regarding an upcoming meeting.

LUDDITE: How often do you log onto this account, and how often does this message appear?

RAY: Sadly, I log onto this account multiple times each day … probably 30-40. Isn’t that pathetic?  I have never actually seen this message before, so I was QUITE afraid.  Did I do something wrong? Did I do something to take down the entire university’s email system?

LUDDITE: How fatal is “fatal”? Does “fatal” mean death, or merely destruction?

RAY: Since I am not dead yet, and I was able to get onto the system, I guess it did not mean death in this case.  I am not even sure that it was intended to mean destruction.

LUDDITE: What did you do to try to correct this error? Did you contact an intervention team, or try to go it alone?

RAY: I waited it out (probably an hour or so), then it worked okay.

LUDDITE: Were you ever able to log on, and if so, were you able to go on with your life without ripping out all of your body hair (including eyelashes) one by one in frustration?

RAY: I was stymied.  I did not pull out body hair, but it was interesting to note that I had great difficulty shifting gears and doing something else.  And of course, I had MANY other important things that needed to be done.

LUDDITE: Of course.

RAY: But since I got the error and could not do what I wanted/needed to do at that moment, in addition to the hour of waiting, I probably ended up wasting 10-15 minutes while I fretted. The fretting included trying to log on over and over again and getting the same FATAL message.

Then Ray fired some questions back at me, which only intensified the mystery.

RAY:   What “details” were “logged for the administrator”? Who is “the administrator”?  Will I have to explain something to her/him?  If I cannot explain, will I then face death?  And also, while I am at it, what is a “DB error” anyway?

LUDDITE: The only question I can answer is the last one. DB obviously stands for the “Deadbeat” administrator who made the error.

Lesson learned: Don’t panic if the message “fatal error” flashes onto your computer screen. Most likely, it’s just your PC being a drama queen.

CAT/MINT

I write the periodic check. Does anybody else write checks anymore? I enclose those checks in stamped envelopes, and then I write an address on the envelope with a pen. Do you remember those? The pen used to print words before the job was outsourced to the ink cartridge. I also stick a return address label on the upper left hand corner of the envelope. I have a variety of these labels I received for free in other envelopes (I love freebies and swag. See my post MOUNT ORIENT), some with little candle designs (thank you Amnesty International), some with cartoon men in earmuffs (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society), some with children’s flower drawings (March of Dimes), and some with dogs and cats (MSPCA). I am not a cat person (allergic), so as a low-level passive aggressive gesture, I stick the cat return address labels onto envelopes enclosing checks I don’t want to pay. Some checks are written for things that give me pleasure, like the school wrapping paper fundraiser, or our CSA farm share. Other checks are written for things like property taxes, and those get the cat label.

I have noticed that I go through less checkbooks these days than I did a decade ago because more of our banking is now done online. I have not been the one taking care of this banking because in couples, there is often one person who is more “natural” with numbers, and in my family, that person is not me. My husband is one of those lucky people who still has both sides of his brain intact, whereas the left side of my brain atrophied long ago for lack of exercise, while my right brain has increased in power. The pinnacle of my right brain achievement occurred on a college Art History exam when I misidentified a Reubens painting (robust nude women) as a Bruegal painting (painstakingly detailed Dutch domestic scenes). I spent the next half hour essay arguing my case, and either my professor (a world-renowned authority on Dutch art) didn’t know the difference, or I BS’ed my way into a B+ on that question by flexing my right brain muscle.

However, my husband doesn’t need to brag about twenty-five year old accomplishments because he’s got both brain sides working at at least a B+ level all of the time. This is why he has been taking care of the online banking aspect of our family’s life, while I’ve been sitting on the list of passwords for quite some time not helping him. Remember that I am the one taking care of the family schedule (THE CALENDAR INSIDE OF MY HEAD) and the family dining (HERICOT VERT). It’s not like I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs. But I’ll admit that I felt incompetent and uninformed, so I decided to give my left brain another chance, starting by accessing the online banking tool Mint.com, where our family banker has been plugging in our financial information to determine how much we are spending on what. It took some maneuvering by my left brain proficient Help Desk to evoke fancy upgrades so that a pie chart could appear upon my laptop and insult me. Mint told me that we spent as much money on food last month as we spent on the mortgage, and an unhealthy chunk of those expenditures were on restaurants. I feel like Cinderella cooking twenty-four seven for the very children who won’t eat my cooking (again, I refer to my post HERICOT VERT), yet the pie chart had the audacity to tell me we ate out too much.

The facts on Mint are a reality check that I think we all could use. Mint.com is a wonderful consolidation tool for our various accounts, and I wish we had something like it to consolidate our television’s five remotes (see my post REMOTE AND REMOTER). Mint also makes budgeting recommendations, ostensibly to help me. For example, supposedly I can save $4,300 in three years if I switch to the credit card recommended by Mint. Now why would I switch to a cash back credit card that might save me $4,300, when I have a perfectly good credit card that earns me a mile for every dollar on an airline I never fly? Who says change is good?

Mint says it. That’s who. Mint tells me truths I don’t want to hear, and it’s easy to hate because it’s inanimate. Sure, it can morph into a pie chart, bar graph, or written indicator that I am spending too much, but I can yell at it without remorse because it’s not like it has feelings. Therefore, I’ll scream at my computer screen, and then I’ll slave at the stove to shrink the slice of pie labeled “restaurants”. Maybe instead of writing a check next time, I’ll try my hand at Paypal. Anything is possible, though it may not bring me the satisfaction of slapping that cat return address label onto an envelope holding a check made out to the dentist. Mint is something I will use again. It could help me save my way to a new computer that would generate the pie charts faster, with brighter colors, telling me I’m spending too much money on something else. I think they call that tough love.

Lesson learned: Some pie, like rhubarb and Mint.com’s pie chart, initially taste sour, but can make life sweeter in the long run.

IT’S ALL IN THE JOURNEY

Do I look amused to you in this picture? I’m guessing not. Learning about the technology that everyone else already seems to know is overwhelming and often frustrating. Yes, I learned to upload a picture today. Which is something. However, let me tell you what it took to transport this picture from the iPhone that captured it in the first place to you. The following is a diagram of the journey this picture has taken.

iPhone snaps photograph in hallway of New York City hotel → iPhone saves image until we return home to Massachusetts → picture snapper uploads (downloads?) image into computer in upstairs Help Desk office → I decide to make uploading (downloading?) a picture onto The Luddite Chronicles my project of the day → detour as I figure out how to make the arrows on this diagram (There is a way to do it, but I can’t get there of my own volition.) → second detour as I Google how to make right facing arrows on a Mac → try everything suggested on four websites → fail → third detour as Help Desk rescues me from zooming screen due to random and panicked key pressing to find the arrow icon → Help Desk demonstrates that makeshift arrows can be created with dashes and carat (>) icon (warns that it may not look right when uploaded onto blog, but I’ll take my chances) → back to the picture, decide just to use my profile shot from Facebook since I have it → realize I don’t have it after all, as it was uploaded (downloaded?) onto my Facebook wall from Help Desk’s far superior computer → decide to take matters into my own hands and drag the picture from Facebook to my Desktop to prepare to upload it (Where do I upload/download/unload this picture? Onto my word document? Directly onto the blog? Will figure that out later) → My inferior computer won’t open, recognize, or even acknowledge picture. Says file may be corrupt. As if. → detour for a good cry → concede that I can’t do this alone and need to consult Help Desk again because the original picture is on his iPhoto application, and he is better at all of this than I am → picture swoops onto my computer via email from Help Desk because he is a superhero (see my post ELIZABETH’S PROBLEM IN THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT) →  drag JPG (have no idea what JPG stands for, but don’t really care at this moment) from email attachment to my desktop, and it is recognized (!), only it appears sideways (?) → open image, and it seems to look upright in the full-sized version → second guess picture choice as I realize I look a bit like a zombie, an unamused zombie who is not in the mood to write a humor blog, but at this point I have suffered much to obtain this picture, so decide just to go with it → go to Firefox → go to WordPress → choose to upload an image into a new post → choose the image that is now on my Desktop thanks to Help Desk’s emergency delivery → things are going well, but try not to get my hopes up due to past disappointments → upload image onto a new blog post, only it arrives sideways again → will not be deterred by minor setback, hopes still high (original attempts to squelch hopes were futile) → rotate picture as per instructions on WordPress → insert picture into post, but it appears sideways again → figure out that if I click on the image, options to edit image miraculously appear on my screen (Hooray!) → many options available to edit image include change size, change alignment, change everything except rotate from horizontal to vertical, even though it appeared on the other window when I chose “edit” (Why? Why? Why?!!) → detour for another good cry → delete image and start again → rotate image, and this time press “save” (oops) → upload image in the vertical and upright position → detour to whoop for joy → picture appears on blog post as if no effort at all has been made → worry that makeshift arrows will not appear properly when uploaded onto blog (as previously warned) → decide to remain positive as I have just uploaded my first photo → Arrows do not look right on blog as warned → go through text inserting arrow icon found during earlier renegade button pressing. Will never find this arrow icon again, but I can live with that → photo successfully arrives at desired destination → Though life is supposed to be in the journey (as opposed to the destination), am ecstatic this particular journey has ended.

Now, to upload the text…

Lesson learned: Perseverance.

DIGITAL DANGERS

I began my research with the following two-part scientific inquiry question: What is floating around in the air due to cell phones and WiFi, and is it dangerous?

Through internet research of secondary sources (especially http://computer.howstuffworks.com), I learned that cell phones and WiFi work like radios. Low level waves of electromagnetic radiation are floating through the air, and it’s controversial whether it is dangerous or not. The National Cancer Institute’s website www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones insists that holding cell phones to your head does not cause brain tumors, yet a Fox News report http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0WLhFX75Ss advised remaining a few feet away from any questionable devices, including not just cell phones and computers, but also alarm clocks, microwave ovens, hair dryers, and cars. If I followed this advice, I imagine my kids would be late for school every day since my alarm clock would be in another room. I can picture myself pressing “start” on the microwave oven and breaking into a full tilt sprint across the house. Of course, there really is no mental image available for blow-drying my hair from a few feet away. And let’s spend a moment in contemplation of how to drive a car while taking Fox News’ advice into consideration.

The secondary sources were all over the place about whether or not there was danger in the air because digital stuff hasn’t been around long enough for anyone to know for sure. So I decided to expand my research into primary sources and ask a cross-section of people I know what they think is happening to the air and is it dangerous. My theory is that it doesn’t really matter what’s real. What’s going to affect us all is the way people react to whatever they believe to be true. Here are some of the answers I received when I posed my question.

Alarmist (male):  I will say this. Recently Levis introduced a pair of jeans with a hip pocket that was lead shielded to protect men from sterility.

Alarmist (female): I tell my daughter, if you want to have babies, put your cell phone in a bag, not your pocket, so it won’t fry all your eggs.

Optimist (child): Wouldn’t it be cool if we got random spurts of knowledge by walking into different atmospheres?

Environmentalist (child): It’s messing up the environment. I know because it’s confusing the bees who can’t find their way home, and then they don’t pollinate.

Abdicator of Responsibility: My wife handles that stuff. She’ll let me know if I need to do something differently.

Wife of Abdicator of Responsibility: Nothing that will hurt you. The relative safety of cell phones is debatable, but holding the phone even one inch from your ear significantly reduces the radiation. Or something like that. I’m not a physicist, but I do read the New York Times health and science sections.

High School Teenager: It’s some type of radiation-y thing, right? It’s probably dangerous and probably causes you cancer, but I’m pretty sure it causes cancer in the “I drink out of plastic water bottles” way, not the “I was a firefighter at Ground Zero” way.

Middle School Teenager: Cell phones and WiFi produce radio waves and they are completely harmless.  They have no effect on people since they rarely ever hit a molecule in your body.  Even if they did, it would probably do absolutely nothing.  Despite all of that, the news has been whipping up quite a bit of controversy and trying to limit cell phone radiation with useless standards.

Mother of Teenagers above: Electrons?!?”

Professor Father (from a different family): Radio waves. Interestingly, I don’t know if I believe it is dangerous or not, though I don’t carry my cell phone around in my pants pocket close to the family jewels.

Professor Father’s Wife in Academia: Radiation. Radioactive detritus. I think the real danger is in the way that being constantly connected affects our brains and the way that we operate.

Teen Child of Professor Father and Mother in Academia: …Something about clouds and the ocean and how the waves in the ocean control the moons…Was it World War Two when they bombed Korea and all the children were born with defects because their mothers had radiation? It must be dangerous. (whispering parents in the background) I meant Japan. Write that down.

Literalist (child): Say this piece of calamari is your phone. There is a ball out there that takes all the information and sends it to your phone using waves.

Grandmother: It’s probably nothing. I don’t even know how you get television or radio. It’s hard for me to believe that all these things are out there with people using them and they’re that horrible, like saccharine causing cancer, and I’ve been using it for the last fifty years.

Grandfather: I have no idea what’s in the air except waves, but I think it’s dangerous. It probably causes brain cancer.

Grandmother: Then why do you use your cell phone? Do you want brain cancer?

Grandfather: It’s not in the phone; it’s flying around in the air.

Grandmother: Oy.

Grandfather: I just duck every other step I take to avoid it.

Lesson learned: If your cell phone is an egg frying calamari that emanates radioactive electron detritus into your pocket and the air, it’s something to worry about.

NOOK, MORE OR LESS

I am hungry—desperate, really—for confirmation that my daughter’s dystopian fantasy will not come true. It goes something like this: all the books in the world are digitized and available on the internet, the originals are discarded due to space constraints, the worldwide web breaks down, and suddenly, the archives of world literature are lost forever. In other words, eReaders have always scared me. Then again, all technology scared me a few months ago, but in the words of Yo-yo Ma, “Something is scary until you make it familiar and comfortable.” I’m trying, which is why I asked my son to give me a tutorial of his new Nook Color.

As background, I grew up in a “more is better” household. If one chocolate chip cookie was good, a dozen were better. Eaten in one sitting. Without taking a break. Even for milk. My husband, however, grew up in a “less is more” household. I can’t say which is better because frankly, I don’t know, and both sets of parents read this blog. I can tell you that the “more is better” grandparents gave my son the Nook Color with internet access for his eleventh birthday, while the “less is more” grandparents gave him books. This got me thinking about eReaders, their relationship to books, and what is more or less when it comes to reading, literature, and life.

The tutorial began with my son showing me the cool box in which his Nook Color arrived. It had a magnetized lid, which he opened and closed a couple of times for my benefit. It had two strips of grooved Styrofoam that held the Nook in place for shipping. He pulled the Nook in and out of the box to demonstrate how it worked like a drawer. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that these features were not the reason why most people purchased the Nook. In fact, most people threw them away. Did that make my son content with less? Were the groovy packing materials more because they also provided wonderment for an eleven-year-old? Do you see how the more versus less conundrum had already begun, and we hadn’t even gotten past the packaging?

Next it was time to study the Nook, with its sleek design, larger than an iPhone, smaller than an iPad, with buttons hidden around its edges like secret treasures. My son pressed a couple of them, and the screen came alive. It was a lot more intuitive than I’d expected. An icon labeled “shopping” downloaded books for immediate gratification. A free sample cookbook offered a recipe for chocolate curls, more potential for gratification. A bar at the bottom of the screen displayed where you were in the trajectory of the book, assuaging a fear I’d had about eReaders that I wouldn’t know where I was in the scheme of things. What was not to like about the Nook?

I’ll tell you what was not to like. Though my son’s Nook Color was not lacking capability, it had an appropriateness problem. No electronic devices are allowed at his school (especially ones equipped with the notoriously distracting internet), so he couldn’t download books to bring back and forth from classroom reading time to homework reading time. He couldn’t bring his Nook to read during what he considered boring Rosh Hashana services because electronics aren’t allowed in our synagogue. So he brought one of his birthday books to shul. He continued to read this book at school. The Color Nook sat idle until we vacationed with friends for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard, when the Nook became the perfect commodity. It was lightweight and took up no room in the suitcase, as opposed to the cumbersome gigantic fantasy tomes we were used to lugging around for him when we left town. The books, we learned, could travel back and forth to school and shul, but they were unwieldy to carry on airplanes and ferry boats. The Nook was a convenient travel device on airplanes and ferry boats, but it was often inappropriate at destinations closer to home. I ask you, can you possibly assess these gifts quantitatively or qualitatively based on this information?

The tutorial ended with the selection of a children’s book that was uploaded for free on the Nook. My son chose “read to me” rather than “read by myself”, and a highly entertaining British voice read a jaunty interpretation of how a little elephant procured his trunk. My son swiped to the next page, we looked at each other and laughed periodically, but otherwise, the experience was awfully similar to watching a movie. Both movies and reading are solo experiences, but for some reason, people feel compelled to go to movies together while they sit in the dark not talking (unless you are the woman who sat in front of me at the Manhattan opening of Schindler’s List who repeated every line into her husband’s hearing aid). Was it bad that my son, even when he was five years old, could have “read” this book on the Nook alone without the warmth of a parent beside him? Was it too little like a book and too much like a movie? Or was it good that the Nook could provide a five-year-old child independence and entertainment while learning how to read? With more information, came more questions and more confusion about my feelings regarding eReaders.

I’ll conclude by saying that while using both the Nook Color and the books, my son sits quietly, absorbed in his own world until he finishes and wants to share his discoveries with others. One reading tool evokes hundreds of years of history. The other suggests hundreds of years of future reading. One comes packaged as a stack of pages you can touch and turn, bound in a colorful cover. The other sports sleek, modern design and arrives packed in nifty, form-fitting Styrofoam, a gift in itself, if you are my son. Once you discard the Styrofoam, the Nook leaves less of a carbon footprint. Books on shelves leave me with the comforting thought that the entire world’s library can’t disappear with a tap on the wrong computer key. Overall, I am at a crossroads here, along with the rest of the world, pondering which is more, which is less, and if and how our children will be reading in 2052. What do you think?

Lesson learned: The next generation eReader may be the first stealthy step toward turning books into movies, or it might be an important tool for preserving reading in a world that is going increasingly high tech.