Anybody who knows me knows that I embrace most new technology – especially anything that makes my life more simple. I use a “smart phone” for most of my day to day communication. I love being able to communicate quick bits of information via texting or email. I also spend a great deal of time on my computer. Whether it is for research, blogging, e-commerce, shopping, or just plain surfing, I spend more time in a day than I would like to admit in front of a screen. Some of the other mod cons that I use on a daily basis are my all-in-one espresso maker with built-in grinder, my Apple box for watching Netflix, and my digital cable box for television. I have loaded all my old CD’s onto my computer and listen to most of my music digitally for the convenience it offers.
While I might be painting a picture of somebody who loves the convenience of my mod cons, I am actually a picture of contrast. My favorite vehicle is my 1971 air cooled Volkswagen van and I find that there is simply no better way to listen to music than on vinyl. This weekend was a reminder of the fragility and frustration of the mod cons. The kids wanted to watch a movie last night and since we have given up on DVDs because they were always scratched, we now rent all movies by downloading. I paid $6.00 for an HD download that skipped so bad I could have sworn (and did many times) it was a DVD! I then downloaded a different movie that the kids were dying to see. It of course, had no rental option so I had to buy it for $20.00. Once I slapped that on my credit card, it had issues with buffering! ARGHHHHHH! It got me thinking about how the kids have never had the experience of walking to the video store to rent a movie. I remember the day my parents forked over a month’s salary for a Betamax. We would drive into town once a week and rent from the selection of fifty or so titles. Mom would make popcorn and we would watch the tape on the latest of technology. After the fall of Betamax, we transitioned to VHS. I rarely remember those tapes not working. The only “inconvenience” was having to rewind the tape before returning or face having to pay the non-rewind penalty. The change from VHS to DVD or Blu Ray was not an improvement in function or reliability. Sure, the picture was more clear and you didn’t have to rewind but the DVD players never lasted and the DVDs, as mentioned, were always scratched. I think we have owned at least seven or eight DVD players and they all eventually died. We still have a VHS player that is over twenty years old and it still works like a charm.
When it comes to digital music, while I do like the convenience of the never-ending playlist, I hate the way every time I download the latest software for iTunes, it takes me a month to figure out how to make it work the way it used to work! Of course when, and I mean WHEN, my computer dies again, I am without music until I buy a new computer. Speaking of computers, why do they only last approximately three years now? I imagine if I was not plugged into the web, it might last longer. It seems most of my computers eventually die in two to three years from over-work. The computer is so loaded to software, malware, spyware, anti-spyware, viruses, and anti-virus software that when I try to do something as simple as format a document using a word processing program, it finally gives out. I still remember my Commodore Vic 20 – I am sure the only reason it ended up in the dump (long before we worried about recycling) is I got bored with playing Lemonade Stand or what ever other game came installed on the machine. We currently have six computers running in our house and they are all connected to the web. The oldest computer is a relic at five years old. It is of course dying. I spend hours and hours each month trying to get it to work just to play Club Penguin for my very patient daughter. I am days away from pitching that into the garbage… I mean recycle it responsibly. I have wasted too many hours trying to clean computers from their plethora of infections.
Almost every night I sit by the fire (fake fire of course) and listen to some old jazz records. Sure the occasional record has an annoying scratch but it is hardly a noticeable inconvenience compared with iTunes reorganizing my music for me only to have my computer succumb to another virus which means that I can’t listen to any music until if fix that problem! The record player rarely stops working. It is the most simple of technology: a rubber band on a couple of different sized wheels powered by a small electric motor. My parents still have the same turntable when I was a kid. I enjoy the fact that I can be more mindful when listening to records because the white noise from the needle on the vinyl seems to keep my brain trained on the tunes. The fact that I have to get up and flip it every five or six songs is not a problem for me; it helps to keep me from multitasking.
My coffee maker… oh the hours I have wasted fixing that thing! The only reason I don’t chuck it in the landfill is that my partner is always watching me around the machine as she knows one day when she is not watching, I am going to make that thing disappear! It sounded like a great idea – put the grinder in the coffee machine. The only problem is when the grinder gets clogged, you can’t make coffee – you are stuck. I have learned now how to take apart the beast and unclog it but that is no small task. I calculate that I have wasted approximately twenty hours fixing or sending the machine to be fixed. You know what I do when it gets clogged? I let loose with a predictable string of well-rehearsed profane words and then when I have settled, I go down to the root cellar and get the old drip coffee maker! It is fifteen years old, it cost twenty dollars and it works every time! Our current fancy espresso maker with built-in grinder from Switzerland cost over $2000.00 and has taken years from my life because of having to drink my coffee with excess cortisol! Prior to our prissy little Swiss coffee maker, we went through FOUR espresso makers that all eventually died from being over-worked. Why do I persist with these things? Are they really more convenient? Yes, the coffee tastes better but not when mixed with a cocktail of stress hormones.
How did I spend my time before surfing the web, texting, emailing, blogging, monitoring my website, shopping online? I must have had much more free time? As most of you know, I am not a fan of over-exposure to wireless technology. While I do love my smart phone, I rarely use it as a phone for actually talking to people. I really don’t even like using my cordless phone too much for the same reason of wanting to avoid over-exposure to wireless radiation. A few years ago I did by an old rotary dial phone to remind myself what it was like talking on a phone when you could not multitask. The phone was not appreciated in this house so it went into the root cellar and sat beside the old drip coffee maker until it finally was pitched. I do still miss the corded phone. I may try the push button corded phone and see if the family likes that better. I remember how the corded phone really kept the family together. When you were on the phone talking to your girlfriend, you had to stretch that cord as far as it would reach to hide around the corner so you could repeat the embarrassing words your girlfriend wanted to hear. When it was dinner time or mom needed your attention, they just yanked the cord back towards the phone and that was it. Now I guess kids can be anywhere, saying god knows what, while nuking their brains.
A few months ago the battery died on my 2004 Volkswagen Touareg. I love this vehicle but no longer can you survive without some kind of auto insurance that offers roadside assistance. The manual for the Touareg is as thick as the English Oxford Dictionary. When the battery died, I had to ask my partner to flip through the manual to find where the battery is! I really could not find it. I was going to just get a boost from somebody but I could not find the battery! We called roadside assistance and in the thirty minutes while we were waiting for help, we discovered the battery is “conveniently” located under the driver’s seat. You can’t actually get to it without removing the power, leather, heated seats! It was towed to a Volkswagen dealership where they charged me $240.00 for a new battery and a $100.00 to take out the old one and put in the new one! In my 1971 van, I can literally remove the whole engine with three big bolts in less than an hour. Sure, it is not fast and does not have heated seats or heat of any kind for that matter but if I need to change the battery or change the oil, I can do it. With the new, modern Volkswagen I can only do one thing when it dies – open my wallet.
Clearly I could go on ranting to myself for hours on how much time technology was wasted for me and how much money I have wasted on mod cons. I realize that there is no going back but I am seriously considering bringing back some of the old technology that works flawlessly: my old coffee maker and a corded phone. These two devices should save me countless future hours and I will be able to sit near the phone, be more present in the conversation, with a cup of coffee in my hand that does not taste like cortisol. I can’t help but believing that the lack of reliability of mod cons is an intentional part of the corporation’s business plan. If you want to sell more computers, cell phones, coffee makers or cars, simply build them to not last.