Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line

Are you still reluctantly crouched at the starting line of the age of information and technology? No, it’s not a race if you choose not to run. However, though you may still be, for example, quite content with your 1998 Craftsman riding mower, your repair guy only wants to work on a brand new zero turn Toro, and one day he’s going to tell you he can’t get parts for your old faithful.

Fine. I’ll find the parts myself. After all, I can locate anything I need on the internet, right? Here we go. So…why does Google keep showing me ads for zero turn mowers? All I need is a belt keeper and an idler pulley arm. I’ll keep clicking past the ads….and clicking.

I think I found it! Good old Amazon! What do mean you want $65 for shipping a $14 part?? Not on your life, buddy. Hold on…That’s it! Serial numbers match. All I have to do is…setup an account? Prove that I’m not a robot? What robot would need a belt keeper for a 1998 mower deck? What do you mean, “click on all the traffic lights?” There are no traffic lights in those squares. Do you mean that fuzzy, out-of-focus thing? What about the fuzzy thing that’s in two squares? I’ll click on both of them.

Sorry, try again. Click on all the crosswalks. Sorry, try again. Click on all the motorcycles. Sorry, you’ve made too many attempts. Please call customer support. Due to Covid and the high volume of calls, your estimated wait time is 2 hours. Please refer to our website and setup an account for faster service. That zero turn mower is starting to look pretty good.

Well, any goat can mow a lawn and I’ve got a push mower and a sling blade. But sometimes the rage of information starts messing with your business, like the time the bank wanted me to change my online password. I understood, and as a network security guy from this side of the Stone Age, I appreciated the need, the fact that my password was already 16 characters including every squiggly mark on the keyboard notwithstanding.

After successfully proving that I was not a robot, the website finally allowed me to update my password. But wait, there’s more. We’re doing two step verification now. OK, send me an email. Oh…email is not an option. You have to send me a text to verify that the not-robot trying to check on his bank balance is really me. The only problem is, we don’t have cell service here.

So I click “send text” and hop into the car. I’m going a little fast because it’s 5 miles to the first hill where I can get a decent cell signal. Got the text and back home again, pull into the driveway, run into the house with the verification code, click on the website link and…”To prove you’re not a robot, click on all the motorcycles.”

Not-robot finally got past the motorcycles, crosswalks and traffic lights to discover that his verification code had expired.

Reluctantly, grudgingly, and with a deep resentment at being forced to submit to the evil dominion of full time interconnectedness, we decided to insist that our carrier make the wifi calling feature on our phones work properly. Alas, with a working cell phone at home, how long would it be before I was checking facebook every 5 minutes, sending texts from the bathroom and interrupting my sleep cycle to absorb some blue light from the nightstand? I’m convinced that the fell beast slouching toward Bethlehem will live stream the event on tik tok or youtube.

So I called up our carrier and the recorded message said that due to covid and the high volume of calls, the wait time would be 20 minutes. One hour and a half, one disgruntled work-from-home technician and one supervisor later, new SIM cards were due to be mailed to our address. Always use the USPS if it absolutely, positively has to be there sometime this year.

This tale has a cautiously optimistic ending. I can check my bank balance now. Oddly, since that first time, the website has never offered to send me a text again. The cell phones live in the office or anywhere outside the bedroom. When they get lost we call them and listen for the buzzing sound, but usually they stay lost until we need to travel. They haven’t taken over our lives yet, and we’re sleeping just fine.

The faithful old Craftsman mower is still going strong as well. After negotiating scores of traffic lights, motorcycles and crosswalks, I found enough parts that, with a little hammering and light welding I was able to put off buying that zero turn mower for another year or two.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: Don’t feel bad and don’t feel left behind if you are frustrated or confused by the pixel planet. I was an IT professional for many years and I still find it difficult to navigate at times. It’s not you – it’s them. Part of the problem is that technology has surpassed the ability of our degraded work ethic and educational system to fully utilize it. Competing platforms of companies in a race to consume the weakest players adds to the confusion.

Finally, we can take some comfort in the fact that, if the lights ever do go out for good one day and this specialized, top heavy, compartmentalized virtual world that we’ve built, a world where almost no one gets the big picture and the components fit together like a thousand piece puzzle of a wheat field – if that virtual world fails, that sling blade will still work and our computers and electric self driving Ford pickup trucks will not be bothered with crosswalks and traffic lights. Our pixel money bank balance will be a mystery, but if we still have enough toilet paper left over from the pandemic, we can buy whatever we need.

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