Monday, March 23, 2015


Only remotely in control 2015

Life isn’t as simple as it once was.

My parents bought a television set when I was 5 years old.  It was the first in the neighborhood and quite a novelty.  We had neighbors and relatives at the house almost every night, in awe of the black and white magic coming out of the box. 

If you could twist a knob, you could have all three TV channels right at your fingertips; that is, if you could position the antenna just right.  (My father was the only one authorized to touch the television, especially the antenna.)

Making a telephone call in our rural environment was even simpler. Just lift the receiver and wait for the operator to ask what “party” you wished to speak with.  It was a bit like “voice command”.  (For you younger folks who may be reading this, this was in the olden days, the 20th Century.)

Not long ago, I was talking about this with my granddaughter and she looked at me with a mix of pity and compassion for having grown up and survived in a world prior to popular technology.  I’m sure she felt much like I did when my mother described her life on the prairie without plumbing.

Our house today certainly isn’t cutting-edge anything, but we are (at least I am) plugged-in and taking advantage of current, mainstream electronics.

Joe was never enthralled with such things.   I used to jokingly say that he was one of the lowest tech guys I knew considering the fact that he’d made a living in high technology.  He always looked at it as a necessary evil. He certainly wasn’t an early adopter, one who embraced the stuff.  (I recall him talking about dictating memos to his secretary, kind of like they do in the TV series “Mad Men”.)

It occurred to me that Al is very “low tech”.  Put Joe and Al together, and they have a heck-of-a-time trying to manage any kind of technology.

A little while back I hired a company to install “a home system” for us, one that would link everything together, and we marched into “WiFiville”.  I hadn’t considered what it would mean to Joe and Al as users.  That was a serious mistake.

Even the simplest basic functions of the system now seem complicated.  The Smart TV’s touch screen remote control operates a host of components that completely baffle and perplex Joe.  He frequently struggles to change the channel only to get frustrated and opt for a nap instead.

It’s a similar battle with Joe’s cell phone.  Assuming he remembers to plug it into its charger, there is still the problem of multi-function keys, directories and options, all of which can send him into an electronics induced tizzy.

For Joe (with Al helping), using a PC to write and send an email is a huge undertaking, a bit like launching a rocket into outer space. Because of this, he avoids doing it.  I glanced at his email account the other day and was horrified to see that he had almost seven hundred emails in his inbox.  (I think that constitutes hoarding.  They certainly were junk mail.)

The thing is, the world of technology doesn’t recognize cognitive impairment.  Even without Alzheimer’s in the picture, things are complicated and getting more so with every new “doflicky” on the market.

There will come a time when Joe simply won’t be able to keep up, and whether we like it or not, he will be back into the “good old days”, operating without all of our fancy gadgets.  I don’t think he’ll care.

The task for me now is to help Joe manage as many things as he can on his own without feeling assaulted by the complexity of the tools.  The other day, our daughter sent a picture of the remote control with everything on it covered with duct tape except the channel selector and ON/OFF switch (a little extreme but not a bad idea).

Sometimes, but not often, I long for those days when something sizzled and smoked to let you know it was a goner; there would be no chatting support, no remote diagnosis, you just unplugged it, grumbled a bit, (maybe kicked it) and bought a new one.

A couple of weeks ago, most of the United States switched to Daylight Saving Time, but not Arizona.  Sunday morning, all of the electronic clocks in the house made the switch anyway.  Even our cell phones were confused.  It took three people (including my niece and her boyfriend) to investigate and confirm the correct time.  Joe and Al abstained. 

There is one thing I know for sure. Joe will not miss the high-tech jargon, geekspeak, or hybrid shorthand of today’s touch screen world.  He will not go kicking and screaming, dragging a Smartphone and laptop behind him and wishing he’d saved everything to “The Cloud”. (What the heck is The Cloud anyway?)

Joe showing "real pictures" to his grandchildren