I really am part of the modern world. I’m computer literate, cell phone savvy, and totally plugged in. I have chargers for all sorts of electronic things spread all over my house. I actually do use of most of these electronics and my first instinct in answering all questions is to “Google it.” I am truly very comfortable being a participant in the electronic and internet age.
But there are certain devices that label me as technologically challenged, not to mention irrational. For one thing I actively and absurdly hate most of my TVs. In the good-old days I used to be able to turn the TV on with one remote that also changed the channels and controlled the volume. If I wanted to watch a rented movie I would actually walk over to the player, put in the disk/tape (whatever), push the play button and watch. But we have now entered the age of HD and my husband (who considers his TV to be an extension of his manhood) has set up all sorts of complicated speakers and sound systems. So I seriously can no longer watch TV in my own home.
What used to be a relaxing pastime has become enormously stressful. First of all we need an absurd number of remotes: one for the TV volume, one to turn on the set, one for the cable box and DVR, one to change the channels, one to work the Blue Ray player, one to control the speaker system, and several that do nothing at all, but we MUST keep then anyway.
This poses a huge problem for my psyche. First I am very anal about clutter and there is no good way to organize remotes of all sizes and shapes. This is a real problem for me. Second I can never figure out which remote to use for which task and, for someone who prides herself on her intelligence, this is very demoralizing. I have made Peter give me countless tutorials, I’ve taken notes, I’ve even stuck post-its to each remote explaining which one does which thing, and I still invariably pick the wrong one or hit the wrong button. Even worse — hitting the wrong button throws off the entire sound system and then I can’t watch anything PLUS Peter or one of the kids yells at me for messing everything up. And those annoying remotes always get lost so someone is always routing around under the couch or among the pillows cursing about not having the right remote (and messing up my nice clean rooms).
So I admit to being a dinosaur when it comes to TV/DVD/DVR watching. And if I have these problems, imagine what it is like for my parents, whose frame of reference barely includes color TV, much less cable, cell phones and high speed internet access. I give them credit for trying. They have a computer. True — they use a dial up modem to access their email, but they actually do communicate electronically (slow thought it may be). They also have a cell phone, which, of course they almost never use. Occasionally they call someone from the cell when they are out of the house, but they never receive calls on it. As far as I can tell neither one of them even knows how to answer it. They also live in a remote area that has no cell phone service. Trust me when I say that my sister and I often worry that in an emergency they would have no method of communication, but we can’t make them move so we have just learned to accept it.
A little while ago they let me know with great pride that they had managed to rework their land-line phone service to reduce their monthly cost. Please bear in mind that my parents simply need a phone that can call other numbers successfully and that will ring when someone calls them. They need to be able to pick up the receiver and speak to the person on the other end – that’s it.
Unfortunately this kind of simplicity is no longer possible and their phones now have modern features that boggle their minds. In reducing the monthly charges, they ended up with additional features on their line that they never had before. One was caller ID. Well not a single one of their ancient phones have caller-ID screens and they have no intention of getting a new one. So that is of no use to them, any more than are any of the other features like call waiting, voice mail, call back, etc. But one new feature practically drove them insane. The new system automatically blocked calls from numbers that can’t be identified through caller ID (which of course they have no intention of using anyway). This meant that people who used to call them with ease could no longer reach them. This immediately caused a panic and the instinct to demand that AT & T let them go back to their old system. Since reaching the phone company requires hours of time and endless patience, a knee jerk response will never work. So after much time and effort they got this feature removed and their phones finally “work” again.
With all of this in mind, I wanted to spare them any more dealings with cable and phone companies. So in an effort to wean them off dial up service, I took it upon myself to do some research for them to see if we could find a way to improve their computer speed without costing them much more than they are paying now. This was a noble effort, but truly misguided. I started with the phone company, in hopes of just installing a DSL access for them. After navigating around the AT&T website and failing to find what I wanted I called the service department. It took forty-five minutes in the queue to reach a human being. My first attempt was a complete failure because the company would not give me any information about someone else’s account. Perfectly understandable, but annoying. I went back to my parents and got from them everything (full name, account numbers, phone numbers, address, dog tag numbers, etc.) that I needed in order to convince AT&T to speak to me. Then I tried again and, after the now usual forty-five-minute wait, I finally spoke to someone who informed me that DSL is not available in their area and to try the local cable company.
So after yet again cursing their rural address, I tried Comcast. This one put me over the edge. Apparently it is possible to obtain high speed internet access through the cable company. But the conditions require one to become a Jetson, not be a senior citizen. Here is what I discovered:
The most cost effective way to get internet service is to connect the phones and the computer to their television cable provider. This would mean that my parents’ phones (that they finally resolved on their own) would change. The phone number would remain the same, but the service would be through a cable modem. The modem requires electricity, so during any electrical outage they would not have phones. This shouldn’t be a problem, the salesperson told me brightly, because they could always use their cell phones (the ones that get no service in their area and that they can’t work). But assuming we can get past that detail, the computer would also have to be connected to a modem (at an addition four dollar monthly charge). While Comcast can install the modem for a fifty dollar fee, I was assured that professional installation is not necessary and that the installation kit is very easy to manage. Now we know that isn’t going to happen, so I added the fifty dollar installation fee to my list and moved on. Then came the kicker. In order to get the best price, they “bundle” all the services including the TV cable which will now have to be connected to a cable box. While my parents do have cable service, it is connected directly to their TVs (no boxes) and they use one single remote to do everything. The new arrangement requires (requires!) that they add cable boxes to each of their sets. Aside from the additional monthly cost, this will necessitate completely relearning how to use their TVs.
My father is possibly the least patient person on this earth and my mother is technologically retarded. So I tried to imagine teaching them how to watch TV using a new remote with a cable box. I really tried hard to imagine it. I even tried to imagine having Peter do the teaching (clearly I can’t do it). Then I gave up.
The results: my parents still use dial up and rarely use the internet. When I want to talk to them I call their land line. I have completely given up watching TV in my own family room, but I can use the bedroom TV which has no sound system. If I want to watch something in a different room or if I want to rent a movie—I wait for the urge to pass.