The Age of Wondering

Technology is great!  What would we do without technology?

(Disclaimer #1: I am a software engineer working for a multinational technology company.  I am required to think this as a condition of employment.)

(Disclaimer #2: Since Mother Nature and I hate each other with a passion, all of my entertainment needs are provided by technology.  Without it, I would be bored.)

Sometimes, though, I wonder about the slow march April of technology into all aspects of our lives.  (Not that it isn’t great, though!  I’m just idly wondering!  Please don’t fire me!)

When I was a kid, and even through my 20s, the internet was this futuristic thing that nobody knew about, and nobody talked about.  (Disclaimer: Ordinarily I would insert a pun about this being the first rule of Byte Club, but I won’t, because I’m in a really good mood.  You’re welcome.)  If you missed an episode of a favorite TV show, you waited until the summer rerun.  If you wanted to order a magazine (kids, it’s like a website, except you can’t click on anything and only updates once a month — ask your parents), you had to call an 800 number and order it from Cindy, your Time/Life operator, who was standing by waiting for your call.  (Note: “Standing by” was once a major sector of the American economy.  Corporate America employed tens of thousands of people to stand by, as did the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT).  These jobs are sadly relics of the past, like buggy whip manufacturers or CDs, except at PENNDOT.  This is due to the sequester.)

I have old VHS tapes (kids, these were like rectangular DVDs, but with no special features or menus — ask your parents) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I saved because I correctly anticipated that they would never be rerun.  The earliest episodes are from 1991, and it’s weird to notice that there are no websites in any of the commercials.  If you wanted to contact a company, and they didn’t have an 800 number at the end of the commercial, you were out of luck.

Over time, though, the internet started creeping out of its digital lair and terrorizing the real world.  I didn’t notice at first, until a few years ago, when I purchased a prefabricated desk, which had the following statement in large, friendly letters on the box:

Easy to assemble ; )

At first, I was just worried that emoticons had escaped from the internet into the reality.  But I quickly realized that this was not a friendly comforting statement.  The semicolon-and-right-parenthesis emoticon actually looks like this 😉 .  This is not a friendly smile.  This is a wink, which conveys the message: “Hah!  I am lying!  Just try to assemble this, foolish American!”

Nowadays, the internet (or as I think of it, Colossus, the Skynet Project) has leaked all over reality.  Ads for products I haven’t even tried yet want me to “like” them on Facebook.  Every commercial on TV has its own URL where the 800 number used to be.  The woman on the NPR show with the ancient voice (I know this is a medical condition, so I don’t mock her, just her show) is forced at the beginning to invite her listeners to “call us at 1-800-xyz or e-mail us at xyz or contact us on Facebook or (most humiliatingly) send us a tweet”.  No woman who sounds like my great-grandmother and has pretensions of being worth listening to should be forced to say the word “tweet” on the air.

I bring this up because this morning I went to the dry cleaners to drop off some shirts.  (Disclaimer: All of my laundry is sorted into two categories: “dry clean only” and “machine wash warm/tumble dry”.  I read these on clothing labels once long ago, and I liked the way they sounded.)  As I pulled up to the drive-thru window, there was a sign by the door:

Get an e-mail the minute your order is ready!  Ask us how!

This is an example of what I call the Sharper Image Effect, named for the chain of stores that popularized the idea of unnecessary technological innovation.  (“Hey, lets put a computer chip in a meat fork!”  “I know, an automatic wine bottle opener!”)  Under no circumstances do I need to know the minute my shirts are ready.  The pretty girl who took my shirts told me they’d be ready by 4PM.  Why do I need to know that they’re ready at 3:47PM?  Will my shirts be angry at me if forced to hang around in a hot dry cleaning bag for 13 minutes?  And who cares if they are?  They’re the ones who got dirty!

My dry cleaner is at the forefront of needless technological innovation.  A few months back, they had a sign by the door indicating that they had a Facebook page, a blog, and a Twitter account.  I refuse to look at any of them.  Their Facebook page probably just consists of mean-spirited comments about other dry cleaners, and demands that I “like” them.  I suspect the blog is full of idle musings about various fabrics and stains.  And I’m sure their Twitter feed looks exactly like every other Twitter feed on Earth:

@DryCleaner: yr lndry plf glbrgh 4 u #Gibberish

Until I can download my clean shirts from their website, I don’t need a technological connection to the dry cleaners.

But it’s wonderful that they have it!  Please don’t fire me! 😉

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