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The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyle technology

Today's Technology & Other Animals
James Skinner

‘When I retired as Honorary British Consul and handed over the workload to my successor, not only did she (the new HBC is a female) inherit the day to day problems of Brits getting into trouble; she took over all the paperwork and was handed all the gadgetry to go with it. I lost my fax machine, my high speed digital line, my mobile phone and my PC.

I had to revert to my seven year old portable Compaq Presario with its incorporated dial up modem in order to access my personal e-mails and navigate through the web for whatever search I was looking for at any moment in time. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the slow speed of a 56Kbit modem and the frustration of reading the essays on Hacks let alone checking the international press to see what next George Bush is up to in the world.

So I decided to invest in my own ISDN line and search the local high tech shops for a new computer. Like any dumb consumer, I began caressing a super duper portable sitting on the show stand that was on sale at 50% of its original price whilst a snazzy salespersons worked me over explaining the latest incorporated software that could almost serve you bacon and eggs in the morning at a programmed 07:30 kick off. Let’s get it straight! I’m not a computer buff, nor do I spend hours on end trying to identify every little icon that appears on each page of the machine. I’ve learned to use word processing as best I could and whenever I learn a new trick, like any other circus performing seal, if I don’t use it constantly, Doctor Alzheimer takes over and I’ve soon forgotten how the hell I was able to ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ my latest essay. Believe me, Odyssey’s HAL is Mr Simpleton compared to today’s computers.

As far as the web is concerned, apart from being almost saturated with all kinds of information it’s in a constant mode of change and am sure that the majority of users, unless they are sitting before a screen 24 hours a day will soon be reverting back to their psychiatrist for treatment on what I would call ITW or ‘Internet Withdrawal Syndrome.’ But let’s bisect the beast and examine each of its parts to see how some of us old timers are slowly growing tired of fighting the animal and why. Back to my purchase.

I got home, switched it on, and waited for it to go through the motions, like a Genie creeping out of its bottle, went through the procedure of copying a ‘back-up’ disk with the operating system, installed my printer (Ah! I forgot to mention. I had two printers; an HP LaserJet and a cheap ink cartridge Cannon. Her Majesty’s Government was only interested in the expensive one) and then it began to talk to me! Every kind of window kept appearing on the screen asking me to perform some sort of task in order to ensure the proper functioning of the software. Then the adverts started! ‘You need spam protection!’ was the first to try the hard sell. Then along came the dreaded virus warning signals! ‘Oh! For God’s sake’, I thought to myself, ‘am I as stupid and vulnerable as to sit here shouting and swearing at this piece of junk?’ I managed to shut all the fancy flashing signals off and go back to the beginning. It calmed down and kept quiet. I began to search for Bill Gate’s biography. I looked everywhere from the ‘Control Panel’ to the ‘Dustbin’. Idiot! It had no Windows programmes! I was able to search the Internet OK and even kicked off my e-mail system using my personal address but unable to perform any word processing or other niceties that come with ‘Office’. I called up the shop. ‘You forgot to buy the software, sir’, was the answer. I put it back in its case and gave it to my daughter who spends most of her time chatting around the world with her friends. She was delighted! So what next?

I finally succumbed to the idea that I knew bugger all about anything related to the modern world of communications. I decided to go to a specialist; an IT consulting firm. I explained that all I needed was to be able to write silly stories, search Internet for information as well as read the international newspapers from around the world and communicate with my retired friends, my relatives, my local MP and my publishers. Within a week I was supplied with I wanted, virus protection included and its working fine. I’m as happy as Larry. So I thought!

I’ve got a friend who keeps sending me dirty jokes. Apart from millions of megabytes of rubbish that clog up my PC, I’ve passed the stage of girly pictures and jokes about dirty old men, so I usually erase them straight off the bat. Then one day, on opening the web, instead of good old ‘Google’ coming up on the screen a strange page appeared advising me that I had been attacked by a virus and that I should immediately install the protection that this page was offering. A few seconds later all kinds of instructions kept popping up giving me the latest statistics of infection! Pardon the expression but, ‘bloody hell!’ I thought, ‘where did all this crap come from?’

Now this is where help is always at hand. Thanks to having purchased my system from the experts, I called them up. Quick in response, within a day were round at my home/office and flushed out the rats lurking within my machinery. I asked them why this had happened, although I already sensed the answer. ‘Nowadays sir, you cannot trust anybody on the network. That is why it is always useful to keep us on call!’ Another hard sell I suppose. I now sit before my screen, very carefully selecting my pages and making absolutely sure that I don’t go into any ‘scary’ territory that will send me back to the ‘out patients’ of the informatics clinic. But the web is not the only beast that has gone berserk in today’s modern age.

When the web was first released to humanity, it was clean, simple and easy to use. It had the added advantage of messaging that would eventually take over all other forms of communication known to man. The e-mail system was invented and good old Outlook Express seemed poised to conquer the world. As time went by, institutions, governments, companies, media and all sorts of weird beings began to send each other messages and other information. But the inevitable happened. As more and more bits of digital information floated around the ether so did more rubbish get accidently or purposefully attached to the same. Like a rotten apple in a barrel, the good ones became infected. Send an e-mail to a friend and he may have his ‘spam killer’ rejecting your message. Equally cautious are many outfits out there that will screen even their grandmother’s will if sent over the net and send it rushing to the dump bin. Users are becoming more and more aware of the fact that if they try to talk to somebody using e-mail they may or may not be lucky and get through. Attaching a document or a webpage is an added drawback, as many virus goofs use this system to constantly pry on the net and try to catch as many suckers as they can. So what is the effect? You won’t believe it but we are slowly going back to using the fax. No kidding! Change of subject; how about the mobile phone?

Now here you have the latest do-it-yourself XXI gadget. I’ve touched this subject before and am sure that what I said then was about a century out of date! But, back to the beginning of his essay; I had also lost my consular mobile (10 years old!) and thus was without a telephone service during out of house hours. Luckily my son, who is a freelance interpreter came to the rescue and gave both me and my wife a new model for Christmas. Great guy my son! After weeks of trying to figure out how to program it, my wife gave up and stored it away in her knitting basket. I began to fidget with my own. I have learned so far to shoot a short video or take a photo; I can send messages, store phone numbers and obviously make phone calls. However, when I turned up at my wine drinking ‘club’ with my new toy my fellow boozers told me that it didn’t contain the latest technology on the market. I can’t use it as a navigation tool in my car! It then hit me. Just like with my computer, I told myself, ‘if I can keep track of my family by phone and send the odd message to a friend saying that I’ll arrive a bit late to his funeral, I don’t really need anything else’. With all the problems going on in today’s world my philosophy continued, ‘does humanity really need all the extras offered by today’s technology?’
‘Am I missing something?’
© James G. Skinner. March 4th 2008.

No Country for Aches and Pains
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Many people, when they retire take up a new hobby, or they go back to college to study

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