Technology is wonderful – when it works

My computer is blazing fast. They say it has several million times the computing power of the ones that scientists used to put a man on the moon, even though it’s only a fraction of the size.

I need all that power because I buzz along at over 20 words a minute when I type, and I watch a lot of cat videos on Facebook when I’m not playing Angry Birds or Words With Friends, something people could only dream about in the ‘60s. Back then, we couldn’t download apps that tell us where all our friends are and what they are doing every single second of every single day. With all that time on our hands, why not plan a trip to the moon? It’s not like we have something better to do.

But even with all that progress, we have problems the old-timers never had — like when I say, “Hey, watch this,” and call someone over to my computer. The video I want to share with them will refuse to start. Or it will say “buffering,” or it will just sit there as if the keyboard is disconnected. As soon as the person walks away in disgust that I have wasted 15 seconds that he could have been spending on Facebook, the computer returns to normal.



It makes me realize how lucky those guys were to make it to the moon at all. What if their computer worked perfectly during thousands of hours of tests and then, when the astronauts got into space, it suddenly started acting like mine, all shy and coy? I wonder if there’s a word for it. The InterNot?

If only it were just the computer. I also have a radio that squawks and hisses every time I come near it. As soon as I move away, everything is fine. It’s like owning the world’s worst theremin.

I have a GPS unit that works perfectly as long as I know where I’m going. But if I’m in a strange neighborhood full of zombielike pedestrians who are looking at me as if I were a succulent, aromatic, hot-off-the-grill steak, the thing won’t work at all. I don’t have a clue whether the next left turn goes into a dead-end alley or just a gang-infested, open-air drug market.

Our electric oven has started to act up while Sue’s making dinner. She’ll put a roast in the oven, and when she comes back she finds that the oven has conveniently turned itself off. There’s no way to know if it’s been off for five minutes or 30. Is the roast half-cooked or quarter-cooked? If this is a feature on all new ovens, she’d rather not have it.

I have an alarm clock that goes off at 7 every morning — weekdays, weekends, rain or shine — no matter what time I set it for. I turned off the sound so that when it goes off, I don’t have to hear it. So now it’s just a clock, not an alarm clock. It’s good for letting me know how late I am for important appointments. Well, not all the time. The slightest random nanosecond power failure will make it, and almost every other clock we own, start blinking “12, 12, 12” until we reset them.

Countless times we have picked up the ringing phone and found that no one is on the other end. Of course, we know it’s a computer calling us. We know it because, like my computer, the computer that’s calling is shy in front of strangers. That is a shame, because we love to take phone surveys at dinnertime and hear about new, low interest rates from the same people who are now charging us high interest rates. The only question is, why do they have to call to ask? If it’s such a good deal for us, why don’t they just do it without asking?

Surely the computers that track my credit card debt and run our nuclear reactors and missile defense system are better than the ones that phone our house at night. Aren’t they?

Jim Mullen’s newest book, “How to Lose Money in Your Spare Time — At Home,” is available at amazon.com. You can follow him on Pinterest at pinterest.com/jimmullen.

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