Reality Bytes

img_1906All I wanted to do was take a picture of a sunset.  I was at the beach with my family, watching the sun sink down into the ocean in a dazzling display of orange and yellow when I reached for my cell phone to snap a quick picture.  I clicked on the camera icon, focused the shot and pressed the button to take the picture.  But all I got was an obnoxious message saying that the phone couldn’t take the picture because I had used up all my storage available for photos.  Which meant that instead of enjoying nature’s glorious display, I became focused on trying to figure out what the heck was going on with my cell phone.

Taking the message at face value (a rookie mistake, I admit), I spent the next half hour or so deleting photos from my phone in order to free up space.  But when I was done and tried to take another photo, the same message came up.  Frustrated, I did what I usually do when I can’t figure out what is wrong with my phone:  I handed it to my son with the request that he identify, and fix, the problem immediately.  It took him less than a minute to realize that the problem wasn’t that I was storing too many pictures on my phone, the problem was that I was storing tons of music on it.  Which would have made so much more sense if I had actually ever downloaded music on my phone, but I haven’t.  At least not intentionally.

It turns out that whenever I plug my phone into my computer in order to transfer the photos to the computer, the computer is reciprocating by generously transferring all of the music it has stored on the I-tunes app onto my phone.  Who knew?  My son deleted the music, and my phone decided that it would, once again, allow me to take pictures.  And I was appropriately grateful until the next time I tried to load photos from my phone to my computer, and guess what?  That sneaky little computer tried to load it right back up with music.  I’m pretty sure I stopped it before too many songs crossed over, but I’m not certain.  Nor have I found the “delete” button that my son used to rid my phone of unwanted songs.

I know that I am far from the brightest bulb on the string, but the fact remains that the more technology advances, the dumber I feel.  It’s embarrassing to have to constantly ask my son what is wrong with my phone, or my computer, or my I-pad.  Especially when he tells me that he usually finds the answer to my question simply by Googling it, which is his way of implying that I ought to be able to figure these things out by myself.  And the sad truth is, I usually do try to figure things out by myself, and only turn to him when I find myself too frustrated and angry to think straight.

I know that technology has brought about wonderful advances in the fields of science, medicine and communication.  But I still wish that the formerly simple process of taking and storing photos hadn’t become so incredibly complicated.  Yes, it’s called a “smart phone.”  But does that really mean it needs to be so intent on making me feel stupid?

Broken Connections

DSC01566I have never thought of myself as a huge fan of technology.  I get annoyed at people who spend too much time staring at their tablets or cell phones; I prefer to shop at real stores rather than buy things off the internet, and according to my son, I have absolutely no understanding of what Wi-Fi is.  So I was a little surprised by just how much my life was disrupted recently when a storm that blew through town knocked out my cable and internet connection for over two days.

At first, I didn’t mind when I realized that the cable was out, meaning I couldn’t watch television or log on to the internet on my computer or phone.   For one thing, I was just grateful that our house had power, since so many of the homes and businesses in our area didn’t.  (Some lost their power for days, ours was out only for two hours.) And I kind of liked the unexpected break from technology, especially since it meant I had more time to do things like read a good book and tackle some of the chores that have been on my to-do list for a long time.  I never quite realized just how much time I wasted “surfing the net” until I suddenly couldn’t do it anymore.  And I may have lost my instant access to the news, but that meant that I was also less stressed and worried than I usually am when I actually know what’s going on in the world.

For a while, I was feeling a little smug about how well I was coping without my cable TV and my internet access.  But I’m embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t very long before I was also feeling a bit anxious.  We had no service on Thursday, which is one of my usual days to publish a blog post.  I actually began to fret about not doing that, as though thousands of readers around the world were going to be logging onto my blog, only to be disappointed to find no new post.  Worse, I had no way of reading or commenting on the many blogs I follow, and worried that I might be offending my fellow bloggers by my absence.  (Because no one can possibly feel they have a successful blog unless they know I’m reading it, right?)  I’ve gone “off the grid” before, but I was always able to let people know ahead of time.

I was supposed to go out to eat with some friends, and  wanted to call the restaurant beforehand to make sure they had power. My first thought was to check their website to get the phone number.  Only I couldn’t do that with no internet, and I also couldn’t remember what I did with all my old phone books.  I needed to buy airline tickets for an upcoming trip, but I knew I didn’t have the patience to try to do that over the phone, since it seems that most airlines have exactly three customer service representatives answering their phones these days and calling them usually means waiting on hold for a day or two.  In short, I kept thinking of things I needed to do, and wanted to do, but no longer actually knew how to do without the help of the internet.

Which brought me to a rather startling realization.  I may not have any idea how my computer or cell phone actually works, and may believe that WiFi is something that exists solely to allow me to play solitaire on the internet, but I have become just as dependent upon technology as everyone else.  I like to think of myself as an old-fashioned sort who has a “take it or leave it” attitude towards technology, but that’s just a sham.  I never thought it could happen, but I’ve become addicted to the internet.  And as far as I know, there’s no twelve-step program to help me cope.


Please Enter Your Password

I just got back from my annual doctor’s appointment, where I got some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that they found no health issues, so if all goes well, I don’t have to darken their door for another year.  The bad news is they want me to sign up for their “online patient portal,” which they promise will allow me to access my medical records, ask questions, and make appointments quickly and easily.  Previously, doing any of that meant you had to actually call their office, go through their automated answering system and then be placed on hold until you grew old and died while waiting for an actual human being to come on the line.  I admit that I like the idea of never having to listen to an orchestra play the Rolling Stones’ song “Satisfaction” again, but I doubt that I’m going to sign up for the new system.  Because if I did sign up, I’d have to create yet another password, and I absolutely do not want to do that.

Even though I’ve resisted online banking and am one of the few people in this country who still prefers to go to an actual store to shop rather than sit in my pajamas in front of my computer and simply order stuff that someone else has to deliver to my door, I still have way more passwords than I can handle now.  It would be easy if I could just create one password for everything, but the experts warn against that.  They also warn us not to create passwords based on the names of our pets or children, our birthdays, or something so obvious as “my password.”  Which means that I can’t make a password out of anything I can possibly remember.

IMG_1082I’ve come up with my own system for “remembering” the passwords I have to use when I’m at home on my own computer.  I have a binder that I keep in my desk drawer, right under my computer monitor, clearly labeled, “Important Computer Passwords.”  My son, who does tech auditing for a living, has pointed out that there’s little sense in having passwords if I make it so convenient for everyone to find them.  But I think that if someone has taken the trouble to break into my home with the intention of accessing my computer accounts, the least I could do is make it convenient for them.  That way, they might not be so inclined to mess with my important stuff, like the profile on my Facebook page.

I have heard of online systems for storing and retrieving passwords, on what is called “the cloud.”  But I just don’t see how putting all of my passwords out in cyberspace is a good idea.  Aren’t the people who hack into websites also on cyberspace?  It seems to me that the idea of storing passwords on the cloud is riskier than having them in my notebook.  The chances of a hacker actually showing up at my house to look in my notebook are rather small, but I have already received several of the dreaded “security breach” notices from my credit card company, bank, and insurance company, who all insist on storing important information on the internet.  It seems to me that storing my passwords in cyberspace makes as much sense as me storing my Sunday roast in my dog’s supper dish and expecting her to ignore it.

So, for now, I will decline to join the system that lets me access my doctor’s office via cyberspace, at least until someone comes up with a way to keep that information safe without forcing me to create yet another password I have to worry about.  I know that makes me sound hopelessly old fashioned, and I probably am.  But I’d rather be on hold for thirty minutes than have to admit that, once again, I’ve forgotten my stupid password.

PS:  Many thanks to George, over at the excellent blog called The Off Key of Life, for the inspiration to write this post.