THE SHOP – Somehow this machine isn’t working as advertised. My iFad, that is. It was given to me by my kids who explained how the iScoop can bring me news, the iSore can delete unhappy notes and the iPatch cuts out half the spam, but iMe is having trouble making it work. So I have come back to this shop on the mall. Other stores around here are half empty, but not the iShop, which is absolutely crammed. Most of the customers and clerks are too young to vote. I could set up an Acne R Us treatment center and make a fortune. So I stick out from the crowd, Gramps with my mysterious contraption (“contraption” is not used here, nor are “constipation,” “gout” and “Medicare.”)
“May I help you?” asks Nerd Number One who no doubt still puts up his stocking at Christmas. I carefully explain that my gizmo doesn’t cohabitate with the icon so I can’t get the cricket scores from Bangladesh. The clerk sighs and gives me that condescending look reserved for the1 percenters in a Walmart. He takes my iFad, touches a few icons, whips his fingers over the screen, frowns, and does it all over again. Nothing happens.
He tries again and again. Zero results. So he leads me to Nerd Number Two and explains the problem in Portuguese or maybe Estonian: the 45-Y doesn’t contort with the main wuppy, or something like that. Nerd Number Two eyes my iFad, goes through the same routine of touching icons, muttering, and guess what? He can’t fix it either. That’s two down.
“I’ll get you a reservation,” he says. Reservation? I inquire whether this is a gizmo sales and fix-it shop or a white tablecloth restaurant. He says I need the help of a highly trained technician, but explains I must have a reservation because there are others in front of me. Obviously, a whole lot of people must be having problems, which speaks volumes about the product.
Let me back up a moment. My story actually began last week when this instrument stopped working after I accidentally left it in a pants pocket. The spin cycle must have been the final insult. I tried to fix the little box myself but was afraid I’d start a fire, so I brought it here. At that time the iClerk gave me the usual sigh, tapped a few times on the screen, then said, “It’s fixed. Got to run. Almost 5 and Mom’s picking me up for Little League practice.”
Mister Young Smarty Pants may have fixed the weather map and notebook. The Daily Duh and the Playboy Channel come in fine, but he wiped out my Cooking for Cannibals and the weekly guide to used hubcap sales. He solved one problem while creating a whole slew of news ones. Now here I am, back again, being passed off from one adolescent wizard to another. The third technician turns out to be a young woman who takes my little iGift and begins to punch and touch it. She frowns, mumbles that the double-button output from the intake mushroom doesn’t seem to be toggeling, then says something about the spin cycle.
As she re-invents the wheel, I look around the shop. As mentioned, it is jammed. There are customers buying and employees selling. On tables are square and oblong things with screens (I speak fluent cutting-edge technology) that perform all sorts of tasks. There are laptops, iPhones, tiny TVs, cameras and probably hearing aids which twert and tweet, scan and tan. The conversations in the crowd are plump with techno-babble. My own knowledge of communications began with smoke signals and semaphores and ended with the Telex, but I try to keep up. For instance, I took my new fangled (another term they don’t use here) instrument on trips to such exotic foreign lands as Ireland and Waco and could read my hometown newspaper to find out who was murdering whom, and read The New York Times to find out who should be bumped off for supporting capital punishment. I could send and receive e-mails and photos. OK, I could receive them. I can’t take pictures because I can’t find where to insert the roll of film.
Do you have one of these new electronic boxes? Well, I say “new” in that I’ve had mine a month or so and understand there have been several newer models out. In fact I got an inquiry from the Smithsonian about donating mine to their Museum of Old Stuff. My little gizmo is a simple machine. The kids didn’t think I could handle an Apple, explaining, “Dad, you have trouble operating a flashlight.”
All of this electronic gadgetry began with the very first person in the world to buy a Windows 95 software program: a 19 year old business student in New Zealand by the name of Jonathan Prentice. Others followed and at the end of that first day, Aug. 23, 1996, $30 million worth of the Microsoft program had been sold. By the end of that year 20 million copies, at roughly $85 each, were purchased.
That was light years ago, and since then the gadget industry has taken over our society. Hotels began installing outlets in their rooms and charged $10 a day for guests to use their WiFi or KiWi or whatever. Then some hotels began advertising “free WiFi” and the competition had to do likewise. The city of Houston signed a contract with a company to make all of downtown free WiFi. Officials conjured up pictures of folk sitting in parks in 105 degree heat and 110 percent humidity happily tapping out their master’s theses. The plan didn’t work. Probably the WiFi workmen refused to happily climb poles and string wires in such weather.
Ah, my iFad must be ready because the fixer hands it back to me. “Next time at least put it on the gentle cycle.” That I did, while trying to turn on my flashlight.
Ashby is wired at firstname.lastname@example.org