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Technology creates new frustrations

December 29, 2007|By LINDA DUFFIELD

There is a funny video clip on YouTube entitled "Medieval Helpdesk with English Subtitles."

The bit, which was aired by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in 2001, revolves around a monk who has to get help figuring out how to use that new-fangled invention, the book.

As the monk points out to the helper who demonstrates how to turn the book's pages to go forward and backward, he is used to working with scrolls of parchment. Books are, well, confusing and hard to use.

Funny stuff, especially for those of us who have done our share of sorely trying the patience of helpdesk personnel over the years.

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So, with 2008 less than two days away, I thought I'd take this opportunity to ponder technology - the good, the bad and the confusing.

Just in my little corner of the world - the newspaper business - the changes have been monumental.

Our younger reporters have never written on anything but a computer. But back in the dark ages of the late 1970s, we wrote our stories on typewriters. If we wanted to move paragraphs around, we used the cut and paste method, literally - scissors and glue, not a keyboard command.

There was, of course, no Internet, and thus no Web. That, unfortunately, meant no Google, which is the greatest tool ever for obtaining information. As long as you're careful to find a legitimate site, Google tops encyclopedias and other reference materials, hands down.

Nowadays, it's hard to imagine life without the laser-driven mouse, laptops, Wi-Fi, PDAs and MP3 players.

But that does not mean technology comes without a price, in terms of peace of mind and one's frustration level.

I mean, "they" tell you to read the manual. OK. I'll do that as soon as someone hands me a manual - for anything that contains a computer chip - that is written in English instead of techno-garble.

I tend to wind up feeling like that medieval monk in the video who is handed a booklet designed to teach him how to use the book. No help there.

For Christmas 2006, I received a gift of an MP3 player and a certificate to purchase music online. Wow, I thought, visions of listening to my favorite music while working in the yard or around the house flashing through my head.

A year later, no music has been downloaded, but my home computer has developed a nasty habit of trying to dial out on its own. I have no idea why or how, but somehow suspect this disconcerting development is related to my abortive attempts to get music into that little player.

Cell phones, for all the convenience they offer, also cause problems. The usual complaints about cell phones tend to revolve around people using them while driving, watching movies or dining in restaurants.

A co-worker of mine has another complaint - people who walk around talking on those no-hands models that hang off their ears like some malevolent bit of Borg technology.

He says this can be scary because the casual observer can't tell whether the cell user is talking to someone else or to him- or herself.

His point: Someone walking toward you carrying on a running conversation with himself might be someone to avoid. But how are you to know?

I found myself thwarted by a cell phone the other day. This year, someone, figuring the MP3 player hadn't caused enough trouble, got me a cell phone for Christmas.

The problem I faced didn't involve the phone itself, although I'm sure that will come.

The problem was that as I'm writing this, I still haven't figured out how to lay hands on that cute little phone without destroying its molded plastic packaging - you know, in case I have to return it.

Just goes to show, one can be thwarted by low-tech. That YouTube monk has nothing on me.

Linda Duffield is a Herald-Mail editor. She can be reached at lindad@herald-mail.com.

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