Janet Sheridan: Admitting ineptitude

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Janet Sheridan

I’m baffled by technology. Bamboozled. I don’t instinctively know how to navigate new sites. I’m unable to perceive the function and relationship of every command, icon and arrow. I’m convinced that if I do the wrong thing, the entire system will crash about my ears, and I’ll go down in history as the crazy old lady who killed the Internet.

When Joel and I travel, we forward our landline calls to Joel’s cellphone, which greatly enlivens our road trips: I fumble around with an unfamiliar phone, bungling calls and sweating while he drives erratically and barks instructions at the decibel level of a pneumatic riveter.

After two years of use, my iPad still forces me to return repeatedly to a site I’m trying to leave, like a goose in a maze. Other days, it compels me to thump its smeared screen with my forefinger — forcefully, erratically and compulsively — before it gives in and complies with my wishes. When my young grandchildren borrow the tablet, they download free apps, take distorted photographs of one anther, play games like it matters and leave a list on the notes app for me to find later: 1. Buy Jaynee and Sophie an iPad. 2. See No. 1 above. 3. Buy nothing for Jack and Walker.

Every three months, I use an electronic monitor to download the data from the computer in my pacemaker to a heart center for analysis. I handled the pacemaker’s implanting much better than I do the transmission of its reports, perhaps because the data has to be sent before 9 in the morning, so I’m forced to engage my brain before it’s ready.

First, I waste time finding the monitor, a difficult task because I keep thinking of a better place to store something so rarely used; and by the time three months have passed, I’ve forgotten where I put it. Next, I connect its cables — sometimes remembering which end goes where and sometimes not — and hold its antennae on my pacemaker. Finally, I become agitated when beeps blast and lights flash, trying to convey a message I no longer remember. The electronic beeps and strobe lights turn my kitchen into a casino and me into a basket case.

I usually discover that a weak battery caused the commotion, but in my rush to replace it— as both the transmission time and my stress level approach deadline — I sometimes place the positive end of the new battery where the negative should be, which renders Joel speechless when he responds to my SOS screeches.

This oh-no-what-will-I-do glitch of mine includes more than up-to-date technology. Anything with a mechanical component can turn me into a blithering idiot. I am outside the logic stream of anything with parts to connect, adjust and turn off or on. I run into trouble changing vacuum bags, opening childproof containers, assembling the food processor I’ve owned for fifteen years and making my bottle of all-purpose cleaner emit a spray rather than a squirt.

I’m at a loss when dead bolts stick, faucets drip and pens refuse to click; stumped by paper jams in printers and uncooperative retractable handles on luggage. If a strip of duct tape or a squirt of WD-40 doesn’t solve the problem, I’m out of options.

I also face a steep learning curve when I buy new appliances, tools or technology. If I hang on to my sanity long enough to keep trying, eventually I can use them capably. However, during my struggle against ineptitude, I often wonder if the effort I’m expending is worth the benefit I’ll derive, knowing that as soon as I figure out the new gadgets, something faster, smaller and better will replace them. In terms of mastering technology, I sometimes think I’m playing an endless game of Whac-A-Mole.

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