By Heather Mullinix
When technology works as it should, our lives go so much easier than we would have dreamed was possible just a few short years ago.
But when that technology we've come to rely upon turns on us, it makes you want to pull your hair out, throw your computer through a window, cry, have a mental breakdown or all of the above.
We take for granted how much of our lives depend on technology to work properly. Power outages bring about the first realization that all this technology has us over a barrel. When a problem at a substation sent my part of the county into a blackout a few weeks ago, it was around the time I was considering what to make for dinner. For me, that usually involves a microwave. But no power meant no microwave. Or oven and stove, for that matter.
Bring on the peanut butter sandwich.
Thankfully, Volunteer Energy Cooperative crews got the power back on pretty quickly. Otherwise, I'm not sure how I would have passed the time that evening. Reading by candlelight may have been OK for Mr. Lincoln, but my eyesight is already strained enough from staring at a computer screen all day.
Little computers run just about everything we come into contact with throughout the day. If the credit card system is down at a restaurant, I have to find another place to have my lunch because I rarely keep cash on hand. I just use my debit card and go. I have run into places that still take checks. Actually, they take checks and not debit cards. I couldn't believe it!
Computer systems run the pumps that we use when we fill up our computer-run cars. Today's cars are wonderful feats of engineering, but they are complicated and computers are used to regulate so many systems under the hood. Many times, you have to be able to talk to that computer to figure out what's wrong. And that means higher prices to fix and maintain a new model car. I realized this pretty quickly after I retired my 15-year-old Saturn a couple of years ago. My roomy crossover SUV gets decent gas mileage, thanks to a new kind of transmission I don't fully understand, but that means service is more expensive. It's not like the old car where I could check the different fluid levels and add as needed. Yes, I was actually able to do that. It's one of those things you learn when you drive a 15-year-old car.
That little smartphone in your hand has more computing power than a roomful of the old classic Macintosh computers I used in grade school. It's great to be able to use one little gadget to make my phone calls, check my email, take pictures, keep up with my social networks and find my way when I'm on the go. But beware the GPS directions that insist there is a road where you clearly see a field or determine you should be exiting the interstate when there is no exit to be found.
Even going to the restroom requires dealing with technology. From self-flushing toilets to motion-activated faucets and hand dryers, you can just about avoid touching anything in a public restroom, but you better hope all that technology is functioning properly when nature calls. Otherwise, it can be an unpleasant experience.
Then there's the actual computers we use as we go through our work days.
Much of my work is done on a computer — the typing, the photo editing, the website updating and the page layout. When that nice piece of machinery turns on me, it makes for a very unhappy newspaper person. I can't get anything done, at least not on the schedule I had planned in my head. And I'm such a Type-A personality that the thought of not scratching everything off my to-do list drives me nuts! That just adds to the frustration of an approaching deadline and a computer that just wants to give me the "beach ball of spinning doom." For the non-Mac users out there, that's the little icon your cursor turns into when the computer is thinking. Or when it's decided to stop responding to my every keystroke and leave me yelling at the screen.
I don't even have a manual typewriter to turn to in those moments of despair. I just sit there hoping this restart or that frantic call to IT will make it all work right and make my life easy again.
As I write this, the Chronicle is preparing for a long weekend, allowing our staff to spend Memorial Day with our families. I'm going to make it as un-technical a weekend as I can, enjoying the simple things in life, like sitting on the front porch drinking some sweet tea. You don't need any technology to make that.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.