Saturday, April 12, 2008

Electronic Gadgets - who needs 'em?!

Well....I do like my computer, I must admit. It kept me in touch with friends and family when I was far away and feeling lonely. But there's nothing like a minor crisis with one of your electronic gadgets to put you in a rotten mood.

Take my cellphone, for instance (please! ;-). That’s my required-to-have-it company cellphone that never leaves my person during working hours. (It's a RAZR. I don't recommend them.) I lived until mid-2004 without a cellphone, and was very happy. Now I’m unfortunate enough to have two, one for work only, the other for personal calls. It stuns me to realize how dependent I’ve become in just three years. Until I lived in South Korea in 2002, I'd never seen so many people who appeared to be addicted to their cellphones.

I remember walking around crowded downtown Daegu on a Saturday. At nearly 5'10", I could look out over a sea of Korean heads with cellphones glued to almost every ear. You'd walk by a coffee house or restaurant and see couples at tables, obviously on a date, both of them either texting or talking on their phones. The Korean teachers at our school would run to check their text messages during every five-minute break between classes, giggling and typing away. Maybe Indianapolis was a bit behind the times back in 2002, but I’d never seen this behavior before.

But back to my own cellphone mini-crisis. I'm one of those people who uses objects gently. I don't normally break things. The fax/printer I got in 2004 still works fine. I finally had to switch it out when the company decreed we all needed laser printers. In contrast, I have some colleagues who've had their laptops and fax/printers replaced on a yearly basis due to malfunctions and crashes.

I got a brand-new company cellphone in December '07. I'm used to Samsung, so learning the Motorola version was annoying, and the documentation wasn't that great, but I managed.

Then, one evening last week the left hinge started falling out. I hadn't dropped the phone, hadn't crushed, sat on, or drop-kicked it. None of that. Not a scratch on it. But still, the hinge fell out. I pushed it back in, it just fell out again. It was so loose there was no friction to hold it in. When I opened and closed the flip section the hinge fell out again. Without the left hinge to hold it, the flip section leaned to the other side. This did not bode well for any wiring connecting the two pieces. So I taped over the little silver hinge to keep it in place.

The next morning AT&T (my service provider) had a major failure in one of the optic cables serving Idaho. No service, alllllllll day. That was fun. I make calls to set up appointments with people, request records, call colleagues, talk to my boss, etc. There’s always two or three people I’m expecting to hear back from regarding cases I’m working on. Meanwhile, I have to be out driving around to appointments I’ve already set up. I can’t sit at my desk all day. To suddenly not have a cellphone that worked was an incredible inconvenience. That day when AT&T’s service failed, I went to arranged appointments or typed. It really put a crimp in my work flow. How in the world did traveling salesmen ever manage before cellphones!? Thanks to my cellphone, the worst problems I normally have out in the field are finding a decent lunch or a restroom.

The next day I had service again, but when I tried to call someone I couldn't hear them. If people called me I couldn't hear their voices, although they could hear me. Finally I figured out I could use the Speaker function to hear my callers. Not an ideal long-term solution, given my profession.

Without going into the gory details, I'll just say that after three loooong calls to AT&T customer service over two days, I was no closer to having a working cellphone. Our company cellphone program was just introduced in December, so we haven't had experience with what to do when things go wrong. Once my boss and I figured out who to talk to I had a new cellphone within 24 hours, a SonyEricsson. We'll see if it's robust enough to withstand my treatment of it :-\.

I’m the lone PC user in an extended family of Mac lovers – only because my PC was what I could afford at the time. But whatever their advantages, my husband spent most of Tuesday trying to get his Mac Mini working. If it were a PC, I’d say it needs de-fragging, but supposedly Macs don’t need such things. He uses it for taxes, sales and lesson records, so it really is essential for his work. Yet another example of our growing dependence on electronic gadgets. One frustrating thing is the abysmal quality of the user documentation that came with it. It seems to get decent user instructions you have to buy a separate How To book, because the stuff that comes with it is barely worth looking at.

So it was not a fun week. It was annoying, frustrating, and exhausting. Getting work done was like pulling up dandelions with roots to China. Hooray for the weekend.

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