I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere within the last decade or so I transformed from “with it” to “out of it.”
The evidence is overwhelming: I bristle at the incessant use of the words “like” and “cool” and “awesome;” I am—at best—indifferent to video games and most electronic devices (want to see a jarring example of ludditism? Take a gander at my flip phone); I am ignorant of almost all of today’s most popular actors and musicians; indeed, I’m such a fuddy-duddy that I recoil when I witness an athlete dancing in the end-zone after scoring a touchdown, shimmying after swishing a jump shot, or flipping a bat after pounding a towering home run. For goodness sake, I’m so antediluvian that I still use terms like “fuddy duddy.”
My status as a completely out of touch, middle-aged man is brought into sharp focus any time I encounter modern technology. I have no idea, for example, how to simply turn on our Playstation console device, much less play a game on it or program it. Downloading a 30-second video from my hand-held device to my Facebook account has vexed me for over a year now. And my travails regarding rampant unintended (perhaps fraudulent) purchases from Apple iTunes or Google Play have already been chronicled in this space.
So it was with considerable trepidation that my wife and I prepared to install digital adapters to our two television sets this weekend. We had put it off for a couple of weeks, but the early April deadline loomed and the frequent scrolling reminders (or were they warnings?) that scrolled atop the screen during the college basketball tournament broadcasts mocked us. We could put it off no longer.
Krista had acquired the adapter boxes and paraphernalia some time ago, and had received assurances from a nameless, faceless Time-Warner-Wizard-of-Oz-like-dude (pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!) that it was an extremely simple and straight-forward process that would take us no more than, say, 15 or 20 minutes.
Sure. Right. I’ve seen variations of this movie before. The McGuffin is different, but the lead—me—is always the same, as is the outcome. In fulfilling my role as the clueless, cognitively challenged luddite so many times over the years, I have learned three immutable truths: (1) No matter how elementary the expert claims the process is, I will struggle with it like a preschooler confronting theoretical physics; (2) In order to arrive at a reasonably accurate guess regarding how long it will take me to complete the task at hand, use the time estimate provided in the instructions and multiply by 5. If the task involves electronics or computer software, multiply by 10; (3) It is usually best for our relationship and for the general stability of the family if Krista and I do not attempt such a task together, but if we must (as in this instance) I am wise to defer to her opinion on any ambiguous or unclear instruction that demands a judgment call. If she’s right (as she often is), then I get to stroke her ego a tad (“way to go, honey! You’re, ummmm…like, cool and…errr…awesome!”) and I avert the double-pronged disaster of stubbornly insisting on getting my way AND being wrong.
We opened the first cardboard box, pulled out its contents, pushed the gargantuan and semi-ancient television set in the downstairs playroom out from the wall a few inches, and commenced “operation digital adapter installation”. Krista read the instructions methodically and I followed them. After unscrewing a couple of cables and plugging a cord or two here or there, we were ready to move upstairs to our bedroom flat-screen and begin phase two. We removed the now-familiar contents of the second box, read the slightly different set of instructions (due to it being a “smart” TV and owing to the fact that no DVD player was involved, as with the first television set), and commenced plugging and inserting. After a tension-filled minute or two involving the discovery that we still had to use both our old remote for certain functions and the new one that came with the adapter box for other functions, we were ready to call the phone number that appeared on-screen, a number that promised cable television nirvana if only we would follow the telephonic prompts correctly.
Krista dialed. I held my breath. She responded to prompts I was not privy to but could imagine: “Yes,” “No,” “Installation,” I heard her say. The tension was thick. My pulse skyrocketed. This is where the whole thing is going to go off the rails, I thought. Our screens will go black, and we’ll never reach a human being on the phone who can walk us through this to fix things, and my marriage will dissolve, and my children will sob and heap ashes atop their well-scrubbed heads, and I will be scorned and ridiculed by the seven readers of this column, and….
It worked. The new channels were properly programmed, the remote controls operated as intended, and the pictures on both sets were sharper and clearer than before. My marriage was going to survive another day! My children remained blissfully oblivious to the tragedy that had nearly befallen them! The sky opened and angels wept!
This merited a proper, mature celebration. I walked outside to the garage, searching for one of Luke’s baseball bats to flip.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.