Skating the Ragged Edge

It is probably inevitable that all of us who are the consumers of the new millennium are destined to live on the cutting edge of our technology. In other words, we want the latest and greatest of whatever there is to be had in the way of computers, laptops, iPods, Video gear, gadgets and toys, etc… al. Besides that, we want those things with all the bells and whistles that go with them, right?

“Dang! My Trio Phone’s battery went dead again! Now I lost all my numbers and that ebook I was reading!”

The only problem with that is we are skating in our lives right on the ragged edge of technology. And when our toys fail, we cry.

And they do fail. I spend a week linked up to the Apple Discussions Forum where customers and users ask questions and make comments about their favorite Apple computer.

The most discussions came from the owners of iBooks. My wife has owned an iBook for about two years now, and it has been rock solid. (Knock on wood!) But if I were to believe all the posts from other owners of the iBook, I would never buy one. It seems there are 4000 things that can go wrong with any one of them, from permanent gray lines on the screen to sudden complete loss of data, and from batteries that won’t take a charge to hard drives that never wake up from the Sleep mode.

I understand that only a very small percentage of iBook owners ever have these kinds of problems, and Apple is much more reliable than any other brand of PC, but these kinds of things can give you pause when it is time to lay down that credit card to purchase one.

I also saw something else this past week with a high priced new car my neighbor bought. Seems he lost his keys, and had to call a locksmith. His car key was easy to replace, but the chip that was buried in his key remote cost him $1,500 and three days wait without his vehicle.

All the more expensive new cars have these, or didn’t you know? Your key remote has a chip in it that tells the car you are its owner. Without it, the on-board computer of the car will not move the car, regardless if you have a door key and can sit down inside. Without that very costly little chip, your car is just an expensive driveway ornament.

My son recently bought a wide screen TV, with all the options. It has on board TiVio, DVD, and 5.1 Surround Sound hooked up to a large screen. It was quite a bit cheaper than I thought it would be, and it was all very impressive. We came over to his house to watch MI-2, for the sound and visual effects that movie can generate on such an advanced video.

However, his remote quit working in the middle of the movie, for some reason. We changed the batteries, but nothing worked. Then we began to notice that there was no way to program or play the TV with the manual buttons on the chassis. Without the remote, it was just a big black dust collector sitting in his den.

The next day we took his remote to the big friendly mega store where he bought it. Turns out that he had to bring back the whole TV, since the remote could not be replaced by the store, nor would any other generic remote work with that brand of TV. Besides, the remote was so sophisticated that it only would work with that particular TV. They gave him another big screen TV, of course, but the whole process was such a fiasco.

A friend of mine asked for my help with his computer. He bought a cheap one for his son to use for typing out his homework. It was a complete system with all the software and an inkjet printer to go with it. Everything worked fine. What they needed help with was the word processor. Of course you know which one, don’t you?

Microsoft makes bloatware better than anyone I know of. If you just want to type a simple paper, you have to wade through the many pull down menus to find out how to do something simple. If you paste some text, a quote from something, watch out! Suddenly all your formatting is gone, replaced by something you do not recognize. Fonts change on you. Formats come and go seemingly at a whim of the software. You are definitely not in control of your paper, your application, your computer, or your printer. Microsoft is.

Here is a case where there are too many options in the software. So much so, that many people would be better off using Notepad or TeachText for doing their writing.

My mom is another example. We bought her a small microwave for a present. She never uses it. It has a keypad and it requires a bit of programming to set the clock or to cook anything. I took it back to the store and bought her one with two dials on the front. One sets the temperature, and the other sets the timer. Now she uses it, and loves using it.

I think we are beginning to drown in our technology. Little things like these events are telling me so. You probably already have your own story about this, don’t you?

There is a computer I have been wanting for a number of years now, and in fact, it is much less of a computer than any that are on the market right now.

I just want a computer, a laptop, or a small portable, or even a small clamshell, which I can use to write on. I want it with a real, full sized keyboard. It doesn’t even have to have a color monitor. I want it to run on store bought batteries that will last for about a hundred hours of use. I want to store my files on a 1 GB USB Flash Memory Stick I can keep with me in my wallet or on a keychain.

I don’t want to surf the web on it. Nor do spread sheets, nor keep all my addresses and appointments on it. I want a simple text editor with a small spell checker for all my writing. I don’t need 385 fonts. I don’t want to choose between 36 styles. I just want to write, and not be interrupted by my software when I am trying to think about my story.

To me less is more. Does that make me a Luddite? No. If I were a Luddite, I wouldn’t even be using a computer at all. I would still be writing with my old trusty Remington typewriter, onion skin paper, whiteout and all.

I am not a Luddite just because I don’t want to skate the ragged edge of technology any more. Give me a new car that doesn’t require a computer chip to run. Give me a TV I can still use if the remote dies. Give me a simpler computer that does exactly what I want it to do, using an application that isn’t 200 MB in size, with 500 useless features.

Apple, you listening? You got it right with the iPod. How about making a simpler computer for the rest of us, who do real work, and who haven’t the time or the patience to learn how to use the most advanced computer in the world, with all the latest and greatest, innovative techno stuff on it?

I already have one of those super sophisticated computers for doing my animations; video edits, and sound mixing. You will never hear me complain about any of its many features or about the hundreds of memorized commands and keystrokes necessary to make it all work.

But when I come home, I want less. I want to hang up my techno-skates and just let the thoughts and stories flow, effortlessly, into my simple little writing computer, sitting on my lap.

Umm, excuse me for a minute.

“House! Start me a pot of coffee. Turn down the thermostat a little more. Raise the room lighting to level three. And hold all my calls till I say otherwise.”

Roger Born

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