I am literate. I can read and write, at least English. I know a bit of French and a bit less of Spanish. I am what some call “numerate” in that I understand and can manipulate numbers, certainly well enough to balance a check book and construct a spread sheet that sums columns or rows of numbers. I could probably calculate compound interest rates if I had to. I got seven eighties on both the English and math college boards. I graduated from a nice college. I know stuff.
And of course I am computer literate, at least I thought I was. But perhaps not. Or perhaps it’s not enough.
My computer, a 1.5 year old Dell lap top, works well enough for email and keeping track of my appointments and my address book or “contacts” and going to the internet to find a hotel in Bodega Bay or buy harissa paste on Amazon. But now I have more computers. And I didn’t really anticipate that. I did have a kindle, and it worked fine for reading books. And I could change the size of the font, so I didn’t have to wear my reading glasses. And I had a cell phone that worked fine for making telephone calls except in dead spaces which only occurred when I needed to make a call. This was not really the phone’s fault. I had a $20 machine that played music cd’s, one at a time, and it worked great. Someone else had given me a little tiny iPod the size of a book of matches but I never learned how to work it. My life was full and I was happy, in a technological sense. But I was the bushman in the Kalahari desert worshipping the coke bottle.
Just before I left my job as head of a solar company, United Airlines sent me a present for being such a good customer. It was an Apple IPad, a reward for having flown 4 million miles on United. Not all at one time. I had no idea. Then a friend gave me an IPhone 4s. And these items are secretly computers.
To disguise this fact, none of these new items came with instructions. Since they’re Apple products, they’re supposed to be intuitive. Perhaps they are, but I am not. And if they are all three engaged in a computer conspiracy to share data, they are keeping it from me very well.
My lap top will not send its contacts or its calendar entries to either the IPad or the iPhone, if they are entered in Outlook, which as a business person is all that I have ever used. My IPad will not process email from my business account, even though my IPhone will, but it will display Google email, although my phone will not. My IPhone will only add contacts that are entered in Google Mail, and only appointments that are entered in Google Calendar. Appointments cannot be transferred between outlook and Google—in either direction. Nor can contacts, but probably I have too many of those anyway, and at least I am not on Facebook. I have just installed access to “the cloud” on my laptop, and maybe on my iPad and iPhone, who the heck knows? The Cloud, which I do not believe is a computer but maybe it is, has created yet another calendar on my lap top, but at least this calendar will communicate with the iPhone. What else the Cloud knows we dare not speculate. My iPhone thinks that I have changed my Apple username, but my computer does not. Opinions at the App Store are divided. God only knows what Apple thinks. I have been to the local Apple genius bar so many times that I am considering endowing a chair. And I do not know what my IPad is currently doing, as it got frightened by all the cursing and is hiding under the couch and refusing to come out.
Just to round out the picture, our television set, which is not from Apple nor connected to it in any way, we believe, now has a dark square in the middle of the screen when you attempt to watch PBS or Duck Dynasty. Or really anything. I do not know how this occurred nor how to make it go away, and the last time I tried this, by the typical “guy” approach of pushing all the buttons on the controller at random, the television refused to function at all for several days.
A new designation for persons like me is clearly in order. This status should provide us some small advantage over the rest of humanity who doesn’t have these problems, whose ipads and imacs and iphones and ipods all gaily speak to each other at all hourse of the day and night. Or perhaps these people have my problems but have learned to mask them. It’s kind of like being handicapped but technically. Perhaps I can be judged to the “technicapped” and get a hang tag with a stick figure holding a pencil (if anyone remembers what a pencil is), with several question marks coming out of his head, and a legend across the bottom that reads “Technicapped—WTF?” I can be the poster boy. And I won’t even try out for the Special Olympics.
—-Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company. His most recent book is Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, a humorous look at international business. Learn more at www.rfhemphill.com.