I may have to surrender my membership in the Ancient and Fraternal Order of Luddites.
Four days of no telephone service at all and only intermittent internet service—and a hell of a lot more inter than mittent—have finally dragged me, like a cat across a carpet, into the twenty-first century.
Sort of. Barely.
Darleen and I went to the local cell phone provider where my bride upgraded her cell phone and I took possession of her eight year old flip phone. The process of doing this—transferring the old one into my name, purchasing a new one for Darleen, getting them both set up or connected or whatever the hell they call it, signing multiple forms of multiple and interminable contracts (signing electronically, thank you very much!), paying a sum equal to what used to be the routine cost of open heart surgery—took up most of a day I felt could have been better spent in more productive activities (cleaning up horse manure, for example) but it ultimately proved to be very instructive, at least as far as the total disconnect between the recent past and the present.
There were two young ladies running the store, and I use the phrase “young ladies” in its most courtly and old-fashioned sense, because they both looked barely old enough to be sent to the principal’s office for passing notes in Social Studies. The aggregate of their combined IQs was considerably lower than the sum of their combined ages, but I shouldn’t criticize because whatever else, they each knew a hell of a lot more than I do or ever will about all the machines the world has come to rely on for communication these days: cell phones, computers, i-Pads and Pods and Notebooks, smart phones of varying sizes and shapes that all appeared to cost what a new pick-up truck used to cost not so long ago, as well as hundreds of ancillary items I couldn’t even identify.
The first disconnect between past and present came as Darleen attempted to give me a quick tutorial on how to operate the damned cell phone. Apparently, in these hectic times, an eight year old flip-top cell phone is considered a quaint antique worthy of display at the Smithsonian, the communication world’s equivalent of a flintlock, but it scares the hell out of me. Are you old enough to remember those ancient wooden rat traps, the ones strong enough to snap a man’s finger? Well, every time I pick up the cell phone, I feel as if I’m picking one of those set and baited traps. For one thing, the volume control is a little doo-hickey (that’s a technical term I just learned) on the side and I keep inadvertently touching it and lowering the volume. How can I not touch it? The whole damned machine is smaller than a deck of cards. The result is that when Darleen and I were practicing, I could only tell what she was saying because I could hear her from the other room, not over the silent phone. For another thing, if you touch the wrong button at the wrong time—and how can you not? I have to put on my reading glasses just see the damned numbers—you get sent off into computerized hell and have to painstakingly work your way back out. The instruction booklet’s contents index is enough to make a strong man quiver: programming numbers, retrieving messages, caller ID, voice dialing, text input, deleting, editing, speed dials, message settings sub-menu (whatever the hell that means), theme colors, status light, voice privacy, TTY mode (huh?), and a thousand other entries, including my personal favorite, the one that makes me soooooooooo happy to have a cell phone—Potentially Explosive Atmosphere. I haven’t even worked up the courage to look at that page yet.
The other disconnect between past and present came as we were trying to get an assigned telephone number I might be able to remember. I have a slight dyslexia with numbers, so random sequences are very difficult for me to lock into the old memory bank, while certain sequences, specifically those that mimic years, are easy. So as we were in the store with the two young ladies, drifting through this dreamy netherworld of communication, when one of the girls read out a number that included 1760 as the final four digits, I pounced.
“That’s great! I can remember 1760 because it’s my birth year. I’ll take that.”
I didn’t expect merry peals of laughter at this mild pleasantry, but I thought I might at least get a smile. I didn’t. What I got was:
“That’s your birth year? Wow. Really? That’s amazing!”
I kid you not.