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Can we put brakes on technology?

February 22, 2005

Our company e-mail service has been spotty over the past couple of weeks, so if you have sensed a problem, you're right. When someone tries to communicate with me, I usually make it a point to not respond within one to three business days. But with our problems, I regret to say that it is now taking me anywhere from three to five days not to respond.

And if the problems persist, I fear that I may have such a backlog that it will be impossible to fail to respond for the better part of a month.

'Course it didn't matter that the system had operated flawlessly for 24,972,470,987 consecutive days - it's the 10 minutes it was down that got my attention. And it's been a bad technology week all around.

ATT is taking over Cingular - or Cingular is taking over ATT, I forget which - and the prevailing company won't let me add a new line over its Web site because their computer system shows me as not having a phone, which led to this stupid conversation:

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"Where you headquartered?"

"Atlanta, Georgia."

"Well, seeing as how I'm in Hagerstown, Maryland, either I do have a phone, or else I am talking very, very loud."

Then there's the home theater. That's the last time I order anything from Layingaroundaleakywarehouse.com. It works with the DVD, but not the TV. Worse, there is a remote for the DVD, a remote for the TV, a remote for the home theater and a remote for the digital cable box. They have a combined 283 buttons. I counted. We have the most state-of-the-art home entertainment system on the market, and I can't figure out how to change the freaking channel. On the upside, my daughter tells me the picture quality is great.

In the truck, my car stereo got stuck and now none of the controls work. It would be OK if it were stuck on the CD player or a decent FM station, but somehow it is locked into a newstalk AM station out of Virginia and is half signal, half static and the volume is stuck on VERY LOUD.

My software at work is incompatible. My software at home is incoherent. I have a scanner that in theory would allow me to transfer photographs onto my computer screen. But my scanner emphatically thinks that it is not connected to the computer, even when it clearly is.

The help screen suggested reloading the software, but only after unloading the software. I did both, and lost both. The help screen offered up a bunch of buttons and said, "Make your selection." I selected to throw the scanner down the stairs.

I can't engage the e-mail on my wife's new computer, because it keeps asking for a password and when I type in the password it says no, not the computer password, the network password. I must have 24,345 assorted passwords, because some require four letters, some six and some eight. Some require a number. Some require a mix of capitals and lower case.

And it's not as if passwords do any good. Any hacker with foul intent can bypass them easily enough. The only people they stymie are their original owners.

And then there are the wires. Don't get me started on wires. If you strung every wire in my house end to end you could easily have electricity on Neptune.

So here's my idea: I want a three-year moratorium on new technology. Let the high-tech companies spend the next three years on getting the technology we have now right. Until they do this, they are not allowed to develop anything new.

I'm weary of companies bringing a half-baked gadget to market and then moving on to something new before they've worked all the bugs out of the original article.

The stuff we have today will hold us. We can live without a new technology that allows you to receive backrubs over your cell phone. We can make do without computer-assisted gravy. We can worry along all right without digital windshield wipers. If I have to turn on my own lights, I can handle it for a while. Let's fix what we have now; then we can move on.

Look, most of the stuff works most of the time. But it's no Honda. If a car with 7 zillion moving parts can work every time, I see no reason why a static piece of electronics can't as well.

Now some of my friends have "put out the feeler" that perhaps the issue does not lie solely in the circuitry. In fact, my friend Ryan believes you can see the ultimate problem plain as day, simply by looking at the photograph at the top of this column.

But if that were true, how would I have been able to quickly and efficiently finish thi[pZZh&**4mhg#^^#@)893498-89163

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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