Can’t I Just Talk to a Human Being?

Photo by Tim Douglas on Pexels.com

All I wanted was a sandwich, a glass of iced tea, and a temporary escape from the airport crowds. This restaurant seemed like a good place to set down my bags and sit awhile.

I slipped into a booth and looked around. No menus, no servers. Instead, a plaque with a QR code was glued to the table. Diners were instructed to scan the code with their phones, click on the website that appeared and order there. At that point in my travels, I was so tired of computerized machines that I left and went to the other sit-down restaurant near my gate. Same thing. Three workers chatted in the corner. I walked up to them and shouted over the ear-hurting music. “How do I order?”

“Oh,” said one, we ‘opened’ that table over there. Just scan the code and order on your phone.”

I walked out of that place, too. When I’m hungry, I get cranky.

I had plenty of time. My flight from Columbus, Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina was delayed. I had received two text messages about it.

I wound up eating a microwaved egg sandwich at Starbucks because I could order from an actual human. It wasn’t good, but their iced tea was fine. I sheltered in a leather chair typing on my laptop about the frustrations of an app-centered world.

I’m starting to fall behind. I don’t have blue-tooth earbuds in my ears, although I do sometimes talk to myself out loud. I have a laptop and a smart phone, but sometimes, oh horrors, I write with a pen on paper. And I failed at both Uber reservations and airline pre check-in.

The convention center didn’t have an airport shuttle. I tried to schedule an Uber ride, which meant downloading an app on my phone that I will have no use for at home. When I tried to set up my pickup, it seemed to be working. I paid $48 for a “medium-quality” car to arrive at 10:15 a.m. A map came up on my screen. I had already given them my name, location and destination. Was that it? I hoped so.

I hauled my bags out front and waited. And waited. I watched a mama robin feed her chicks in a nest above the bricks at the entrance. I said goodbye again to new poet friends who wished me a safe trip. I watched families arrive with children in bathing suits. 10:15. 10:20. 10:30. 10:45. Two friends from New Mexico came out. They had an Uber booked. They knew the name of the driver and the make of his car. I knew nothing. Clearly I had screwed up. My friends invited me to squeeze in with them. Whew. On my way.

When I tried to check in for my flights, Columbus to Charlotte and Charlotte to Portland, I couldn’t make it work. Unlike every other passenger flashing his/her phone, I checked in at the airport and presented the wrinkled paper boarding pass I got out of the machine. Failing the seat-reservation function, I wound up in the dreaded middle seat on the six-hour flight to Portland. I couldn’t figure out the app to watch a movie, but I had a book to read.

Back in Portland, I was not yet free of apps and screens. My car, which had been parked at a hotel park-and-fly lot (booked online), roared like it was about to explode. Thieves had stolen the catalytic converter, the doo-hicky underneath that filters exhaust emissions. I called AAA road service. They texted me an app to watch their progress on my phone. I watched them drive in the wrong direction but had no way to tell them. Two hours later, “Ray” arrived and drove me and my car to Corvallis, using his GPS to guide him on the most circuitous route.

Portland Police Department’s non-emergency line is so busy they won’t even let you wait on hold. You file your report online. After I called my insurance company, I was bombarded with emails and texts about my claim. I thought I rented a car online, but when I got to Hertz, I had done it wrong, so we had to start over. I was so frustrated I cried right there in the waiting room at University Honda.

My rental car, a 2021 Ford Escape, had so many computerized controls, it took three Hertz employees to help me figure out how to shift into reverse so I could get out of the parking lot.

I’m home now. I’ve got my car back, my good old, not-so-computerized car. I know it’s a virtual world these days. I’m writing this on my computer. Like everyone else, I’m forever checking my phone, but sometimes I just want to put the damned thing down. Sometimes I really need a kind human to ask, “How are you? What can I get you?”

Some interesting reading about online ordering in restaurants: https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-mobile-ordering-restaurants-0913-biz-20160912-story.html

https://www.foodandwine.com/fwpro/post-pandemic-dining-role-of-cell-phones

Had a run-in with an app lately? Please share in the comments.

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Stories lost in the floppy disk graveyard

I took the old laptop out of its nifty leather case and stared. Was it always that clunky looking? So square? Like an old Volvo. Instead of a mouse, it has a marble-sized trackball. The screen is about the size of my Kindle screen. And what’s with the giant box with a little plug sticking out of it?

This thing doesn’t have a USB port, but it does have a place to plug in a telephone line for the modem. Suddenly the old backup computer has become an historic artifact. But it’s my only hope to find out what happened to Roberta and Frank.

I’ve been reading through short stories I wrote back in the late ‘90s. Some are so awful I’m relieved no one wanted to publish them. But some are still good, especially this one about Roberta and Frank, who run into trouble while traveling in their motorhome. I was thinking I should polish it and send it out. It’s not too out of date. Look, Roberta, even has a cell phone. She doesn’t know how to use it, but I can fix that. I got to the end of page 5. The ambulance is coming and–where’s page 6? Where’s the rest of the story? I have a vague memory that Roberta stops being such a wuss and saves the day, but I don’t know the details anymore.

I have to leave for church in five minutes. I tear through my files. I sent it to literary journals back in the days before we submitted everything online. I have to have more paper copies of “Runaway Dream.”

I find maybe 50 short stories. Lord, I was prolific. But not that one.

Okay, look through the pile of CDs. Nope, too new. Where are those old 3.5-inch floppies? The only computer with a floppy drive that I still have would be that laptop I bought in 1993. There it is back behind the unsold books.

Epson ActionNote 700 CX. I plug it in. The poor thing is beat up, the F7 key coming off, the screen part separating from the keyboard part (unlike a lot of today’s laptops, it’s not supposed to). It turns on. Gray screen, words and numbers. DOS. Oh crap. Does anybody remember the DOS operating systems that preceded Windows?

Press F1. Okay. Setup failed. Press F12 for setup utility. I get a screen full of choices and no idea what button to push. The date shows Jan. 1, 1990. Memories of Y2K. Remember how we thought the world would fall apart because all our computers couldn’t make the leap to a new millennium? Most of them did but maybe not this one.

I decide to take pictures so I can show you all this historic computer. I close the top to shoot the outside. When I reopen it, all the words and numbers are gone. The computer doen’t even hum. When I push the power button, nothing happens. Old ActionNote seems to have passed away while I was trying to take its picture. But how does Roberta get off that deserted road? Does her husband get to the hospital in time?

Wait. Do I have another laptop, an interim between the Volvo and my current HP, a Honda maybe? Can’t find it, but I find some 5.25-inch floppy disks. Short Stories 1 and 2. Great! Oh. I have nothing that can read them. I have always backed up my files, carried copies in my car, and put them in the safe deposit box at the bank. It’s all useless nonrecyclable plastic now.

But wait, the Volvo didn’t die. The plug got super hot and the computer turned itself off. After it cools, I plug it in again. Green light. Must act quickly. Setup. Change the date. OMG. Windows 3.1. Insert disk. Horrible wailing noise. It can’t read the disk, can’t read any of my old disks, but hey, here on the hard drive is the old version of my novel Azorean Dreams. Hello, old friend.

“When the alarm shrilled at 7 a.m., Chelsea groaned and covered her eyes against the light pouring in the bedroom windows.” The whole book is there. Wow.

What else is on this thing? There’s the unfinished novel about a quadriplegic named Daniel. And something called deaderma.wps. Oh, I love that story. Reporter goes to do an interview and finds the subject dead in the rose bushes. Being a reporter, she gets nosy . . .

No Roberta and Frank. I created these people. I need to find out what happened to them, even if I have to retype every blinking word into the new (ish) computer.

I’m still looking. And no, I do not want to write a new ending. The moral of this tale. Print everything out. I still have poems, stories and essays I wrote on manual typewriters 50 years ago, but I can’t read what I entrusted to my computers in 1997. Even 2007 is iffy. Paper lasts longer than modern technology. We’re putting all of our information into machines that will be obsolete before I pay off my Visa bill. Is anybody thinking about that?

Do you have antique computers and antique media hanging around? Ever try to use them? What is going to happen to everything we have entrusted to our computers in five, 10, 20 or 30 years? Are writers the only ones who care?

I could tell you a whole other story about the days I spent last week sticking slides into the old slide projector. I thought I would get them digitized, but then I thought, why? Even my own slides bore me now. It’s been a dusty time in the Lick household lately as I try to sort things down to manageable levels. Within reason. Marie Kondo, queen of throwing away everything that doesn’t give you joy, can’t take my stories away. She’s not even getting the old laptop. Not yet.

Here are some interesting links to read about the history of laptops and the history of data storage.

Laptop history in photos

Another history that is better if you mute the music

Check out this video on how to prevent “data rot” No music, cute guy, but skip the ad after he gets to the stone tablets

You might also want to mute the music on this history of data storage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwJfERnF30g
Fascinating, but the music is a bit much


What? They didn’t have computers?

18334059 - old fashioned typewriter

Once upon a time, I wrote a short story for a Writer’s Digest correspondence course. The lessons came by mail in those days. The assignments–outlines, character descriptions, scene summaries, etc.–added up to a final story that’s reminiscent of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Eager young worker, horrible boss, boyfriend who doesn’t get it.

The plot revolved around the boss’s refusal to move from typewriters to computers. Our young heroine struggles with the correction tape on her electric typewriter (remember those?) and her boss complains that if she were a better typist, she wouldn’t need so much correction tape. Our girl, Colby, is mired in work and about to get fired because she just can’t keep up. But then, an angry client comes in while her boss is out. He wants his ad changed right now. Colby sneaks onto a co-worker’s new computer (an Apple?) and click, click, click, makes the changes. The client is delighted, Colby is promoted and she gets her own computer. Only in 1988, right?

It’s a terrible story, full of holes and clichés and way too many adjectives. I found it while cleaning out old writing files. I never throw away my work, but this went into the big blue recycle cart, where it is now lost among the boxes, butter tubs, and junk mail. I have also discovered reams of articles about writing from back in the olden days when I and others who taught or wrote about writing urged wannabe writers to get a computer or be left behind. It seems silly now, but I remember . . .

I learned to type on a manual typewriter with a slippery roller. The letters were attached to rods that got tangled up if I typed too fast. In my late teens, I used babysitting money to buy myself a new typewriter, blue plastic. My father couldn’t understand why I would waste my money on such a thing. It wasn’t like I needed it for school or anything else; we all wrote with pens and pencils, but I was determined to be a writer from the time I discovered words. Real writers had typewriters.

I encountered my first electric typewriter in a college typing class required for journalism students. It seemed to have a mind of its own, the keys moving so fast they stuttered out multiple letters if I breathed on them. I actually told the teacher I couldn’t handle this fancy electric typewriter. She basically told me to suck it up. I did. I got good at it, typing over 100 words per minute–if you don’t count mistakes.

On my first newspaper job in the early ‘70s, we used manual typewriters, big heavy Royals, typing on scraps of newsprint with carbon paper to make copies. We edited in pencil before sending the pages to the typesetter. I moved up to IBM Selectric typewriters in 1978 for a PR job. The letters were on ping-pong-sized balls, interchangeable for different typefaces. High tech! But you couldn’t “save” anything. You had exactly one copy, and if it got damaged or destroyed, you had to do the work over again.

Fast forward. Divorce. Temping as a secretary. Another newspaper job working on old Royal typewriters. And then, 1984, a typesetting gig at a print shop in Sunnyvale, California. The file-cabinet sized computer on which I worked used floppy disks that were eight inches square. The operating system was DOS. No Windows. No mouse. If you didn’t know the right sequence of letters and symbols, you were screwed.

Future jobs would take me through the Apple orchard and early PCs, from DOS to Windows, from Compuserve to the World Wide Web, news groups to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now I own a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet and a smart phone, all of which I can use to write, send and receive stories, information, photos, music and almost anything else.

My short story would never work now, even if it were well written. It wouldn’t even make sense. What do you mean her boss wouldn’t let her use a computer? I probably saved that story about Colby and the typewriter on a floppy disk, either 5 ¼ or 3 ½ inch. If I could find the disk, I would have nowhere to plug it in and no program that could read it. What will happen to the stuff I write today?

A Facebook friend recently asked what we’d do if the Internet went away. Well, my blogs would disappear, along with all of my online connections, my ebooks, and any writing I did not save on paper, but when you get to the basics, writing is writing. I drafted this blog in my notebook with my new favorite pen, a Papermate “Inkjoy.” I quadruple back up everything I write and carry a flash drive in my purse, but I also print out everything I value on good old paper.

I don’t know whether to toss all those yellowing articles about prehistoric computer gear or save them as historic artifacts. I have another batch of articles about cameras that used film. I just know a lot has changed.

When I was an editor at the Saratoga News around 1995, a group of Girl Scouts came in to observe real live newspaper people at work. None of the girls knew what a typewriter was. How about you? Any typewriter memories? Or are you wondering what a typewriter is? See the photo; that’s a typewriter, similar to the one I started with. What was your first computer? What would you do without it now? Let’s talk about it.

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Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017. Photo copyright micelecaminati / 123RF Stock Photo

 

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