Welcome to the tech wreck that is my life
Text © Paul Ransom / Image © John Ransom
Eleven days. That’s how long it took me to get to grips with my new, supposedly idiot-proof, Bluetooth headphones. In fact, I’m still not sure I understand how they work, let alone why they so often don’t. And then there’s the new smartphone, which threatens to outwit me every time I swipe to open. Heaven knows how I’ll cope if I take the leap and update the laptop.
Ah, technology, I sigh. So handy, so liberating, so…yeah. (Frustrating would be a polite way of saying it.)
Come on, folks, let’s all swear at our devices.
I will readily confess to having employed the full range of expletives in my various dealings with digital technology, but I admit this hoping I am not alone. Surely I am not the only fumbling, illogical, incompetent idiot to poke my touchscreen with gritted teeth and shredded nerves, praying that I am not about to unleash some hitherto unmentioned and irreversible self-destruct process.
But please understand, dear reader, I am no Luddite nostalgist pining for a return to horsepower. Nor do I believe that tech should have been snap frozen at Windows 3.1.1 – good though it was. Likewise, I have never bought into the ‘fear of the machines’ trope or indulged in the cyber-hell fantasies of sci-fi writers and conspiracy theorists. In fact, as a digital nomad, I am a beneficiary of the IT revolution.
I remind myself of this every time I end up befuddled and belittled by apps and gadgets. Which, nowadays, is often. Not every time – but enough to keep me clinging to my current and increasingly clunky laptop, with its faulty ‘g’ and ‘h’ keys, misbehaving touchpad, and annoyingly inconsistent alt-tab function. Indeed, I would rather press ‘g’ fifteen times than risk the opaque vicissitudes of a shiny new computer.
Oh, big tech, can you hear my plaintive cries?
Nah, of course not. Because you clearly don’t give a shit about my fifty-something failure to stay on top of your relentless updates. What’s more, I know you laugh at my troglodyte incompetence as you track my every keystroke and consign my quaint, old man blog rants to SEO oblivion.
And there I was feeling so moderne…that is, until it took me a fuming 97 minutes to book a single one-way flight; a process that involved four separate websites and numerous dead ends before you finally took my $156 and left me humbled and sore throated. (NB: Next time, I’m going back to my prehistoric habit of using a travel agent – unless of course your runaway AI bots render all human activity redundant in the next few days.)
OMFG! Look what you’re making me do now. I sound like one of those whinging Boomer bores I swore I’d never become. Please have one of your drones kill me before I end up in a bunker with a pedal powered generator and a lifetime’s supply of third-hand Playboy mags.
Okay, Paul…breathe. Hit reset. And try turning it off and on again. That usually works.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is great. I give daily thanks for running water, contact lenses and refrigeration. I’m quite fond of coffee machines too. However, I am starting to wonder if IT is getting too complex. Has push button convenience become an inconvenience? Do we need a ‘simplicity revolution’ in the design of digital technology?
Once, we may have scoffed at such questions. (So what if a few dinosaurs miss out. They’ll be extinct soon.) Yet here we are – April 2023 – and earbuds have become confusing, the phone wants to fingerprint you before letting you make a call, and the average online retail portal is an unsightly labyrinth of pop-ups, tick boxes and superfluous options. And no thank you, I do not want my receipt uploaded to the metaverse as an NFT.
Clearly, the labour saving efficiencies of technology got lost somewhere; most likely buried deep in a drop down menu hidden behind a button I will never discover. True, there’s always the online help – it’s just that I rarely find the fora functional, and I’ve lost count of the times the 24/7 helpdesk was closed. And guess how often I’ve spent hours trying to troubleshoot an issue only to have it later pointed out that the solution was both obvious and staring me in the face? Yeah, often enough.
I used to think I was pretty smart – what with all my fancy book reading and stuff – but the machines have shown me how dumb I’ve become. While they click and whir and crunch zeroes and ones, and teach themselves to mimic my human failings with an increasingly spooky aplomb, I shudder before the Next prompt, not knowing if I am about to book a holiday or be scammed by a disparate and untraceable network of 13yo dark websters.
What I really need is an AI assistant to do all the tech biz for me. Having already played with ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion it is obvious that the Silicon Valley geeks are cracking the AI code, and that their latest toy will soon be seriously useful. It might even help me navigate the transition to a new laptop. (Od kows I could sure do wit properly functionin g/h keys.)
But no, I hear you cry. AI is the end of everything. The ultimate nuclear option. See ya later flawed, irrational humans. Adios number one waster of resources and menace to biosphere. Hello ruthless, robo-tyranny. Efficient, eco-friendly, and able to mimic every Nick Cave nuance you ever dared dream of. Even the gods will hang up their thunderbolts when the artificially intelligent machines complete their seamless takeover.
Scary though all that redundance sounds, I already feel outmoded. Outsmarted. Made to feel inept and archaic. Even my headphones mock me. “Go on, human,” they cackle, “see if you can unmute us.”
So, fuck it – I’ll risk a bit of NWO financed, AI-apocalypse for a working keyboard, a phone that does not refuse to believe that I am who I say I am, and headphones that let people hear me when I finally manage to break through security and make a call.
Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like such a Brontosaurus.
PS: I look across at my gorgeously designed Danish earbuds, so sleek in their ergonomic case, and as their colourful LED lights blink attractively at me, I catch myself mid-journey and think: careful what you wish for, mister.