Thursday, April 12, 2012

Complicated computer era continues to confuse

3/28/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

It’s that time of year again—tax time. Time to peer into the depths of my so-called filing system and pull out all those important documents that will make or break us on April 15. Ugh.

Accessing my files system seems much more time consuming than when my receipts were written with pencil and paper. “A place for everything and everything in its place” was my motto. And then along came those formidable boxes called computers and I’ve been confused ever since.

One of the things that sold me on the computer world was the claim that we were entering “A paperless society that would save time.” Well, that was a blatant lie if ever I’ve heard one. I now buy and file more paper than an IBM executive secretary because everyone needs a ‘hard copy’ in addition to an email file.

At first, I was pretty excited when I learned my way around this brave new world. In 1996, one of my jobs in the front office of the Sentinel was to balance the accounts payable at the end of the month. Doing it on the computer was faster and simpler than gathering figures and adding them up on the adding machine. This was good.

Learning to do billing on the computer was another story. I was the office dummy. The one wearing a paper bag over my head that said “In training.” Honestly, for months I thought I would have a nervous breakdown. I longed for the days we hand wrote invoices and could look up accounts payable in a nice notebook.

Silly me, I didn’t know that I had entered a vast maze from which there was no exit. This computer stuff was here to stay and I’d better get on board or be left behind.

Thanks to some very patient teachers in the former Springfield News accounting department things slowly began to make sense. Shortly after Finn John hired me in the newsroom, Jeff, my computer genius son, stepped up to the plate and tutored me in all things “computer.”

Once I learned word-processing, how to set up email accounts and get on the web, I thought I was done. Oh, no. Every door that opened led to a maze. This was an on-going education with secret words and I was dragged screaming and kicking into this new world.

I learned that the computer had to be ‘rebooted,’ when it crashed (crashed?); documents had to be saved. It took years for the meaning of words like defrag, widget, browser, interface, domain, bandwidth, firewall, Webmaster, virus and zip to sink into my pea brain. But I was determined to learn and learn I did.

Somewhere in this time frame I realized that people were walking around talking loudly to themselves while holding something called a cell phone up to their heads. I remember thinking how ridiculous they looked and annoying they sounded. Then telephone booths with 25-cent public telephones started disappearing.

One day I needed a phone booth and there was none in sight. So I became one of “them” by default. I bought a cell phone…just in case. My kids say it’s useless because I mostly leave it in the car. I call it peaceful. They call it weird. But they taught me how to text and take pictures and videos…just in case.

YouTube was my next learning curve. To play their videos we needed high-speed connections. Out in the country we only had dial-up. I finally broke down and subscribed to Satellite just so I could see what people were sending. I thought I had moved into the 21st century.

Not so. Just as I was getting comfortable with this new world of communication some newcomers reared their heads. Twitter? What’s that? In my dictionary it’s a bird singing. I ignored it.

Then came a GPS. Our daughter thought it would help her dad navigate when we’re out in the RV. (Don’t want the old folks getting lost, you know!). He promptly handed it to me and suggested that since I was “so good with these things,” it should be my responsibility to program it, etc. I’ve been in charge ever since.

I was feeling pretty smug about my modern self and then along came Facebook. I have to tell you that I dug in my heels and said, “No, I’m not doing this.” And so far I’m sticking to my guns. I’ve turned down so many offers to “friend” people that I’m surprised I have any friends at all.

Everyone has his or her own reason for signing on to Facebook. Most say, “it helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” Grandparents say, “But it’s so easy to keep up with the family. Otherwise, I’d never know what my grandchildren are doing.”

I say, that’s why we have all of these other gadgets. You know, like the telephone, cell phone, email, cards and letters. Letters? Do people still write letters? Well, I do. Guess that shows you what a dinosaur I am.

And who wants to know what the family is doing every minute anyway? I don’t care what you had for breakfast and I certainly don't want to hear the latest gossip or family tragedy via a public information agency.

The kind of information I need right now is hopefully filed away from prying eyes in Quicken. The IRS is waiting and we all know how impatient they are. Wish me luck!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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