The Digital Age, Does It Really Make My Life Easier?

We have been living in the digital age for a while now, and I find myself asking, “Myself, does this really make my life easier?” Keep in mind, I’m in that demographic fondly known as the elderly, so I didn’t come out of the chute with a smart phone in hand. When I was a child, television had just been invented. And, when you wanted to make a phone call you picked up the receiver and a real live operator said, “Number please.” My phone number as a child was 393Red. Amazing that I remember that, when I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. But, I digress. The digital age

First, there’s my cell phone, a so-called smart phone. Cell phones started out as car phones, as in permanently attached to your car. Then they morphed into large bag phones and other types of cell phones the size of a shoe box; portable but not particularly convenient for carrying around. Now they’ll fit in your pocket. I admit it is handy for making calls, which none of my daughters will do. They insist on texting, and a texting conversation with one of them consists of their sending 10 text to my 1. I can’t get a text in edgewise, and I’m always 3 subjects behind. They also speak imogi, which I don’t. So that’s like trying to speak Swahili with them, and I’m not particularly conversant in Swahili either. The digital age

My cell phone is now a smart phone, which means it connects to the internet that contains all the information in the world. When I was in high school, you had to go to the public library to do research for your class project. Now, you can do the research on your smart phone. I don’t even know why we bother with school anymore, because you can look up any information on your phone. A couple of years ago, I visited an old Titan Missile Base in Arizona, where the tour guide showed us the gigantic computer system used to control the missiles. She told us that our smart phones contained 10-times the computing power of that entire missile base. Pretty impressive, until the internet goes down, which happens from time to time. Then, it’s back to the public library. Do they still exist? The digital age

Depending on your carrier, getting a cell signal can also be tricky. We have Verizon, and for some reason I can get signal in every room of our condo but the bedroom. Why? I have no clue. Also, it’s not great if I’m using Maps to travel around the US and I lose cell signal. That usually happens in the middle of nowhere, which is not a great place to get lost. That’s why I also use a Garmin GPS. The Garmin signal is satellite, and pretty much always there unless you’re next to a tall mountain. Which leads me to another interesting tidbit with respect to my cell phone. The digital age

I have a Garmin, which I have named Myrtle. I also learned how to use the CarPlay App in my SUV, where I plug my cell phone into the car’s computer. That way I can make phone calls, use the Maps app, play music and stream audible books through my cell phone while keeping my hands on the wheel. The interesting part is that Myrtle speaks to me from my Garmin, and then there’s Alexa for the Amazon Music App and Siri for Maps directions and other cell phone functions. In addition, my wife likes to have her own input into my driving and the best route to get there. So, at times I am listening to Myrtle, Siri, Alexa and my wife all at the same time. And more to the point, Myrtle and Maps often disagree with respect to the best route to a given destination. Then my wife will enter the argument over the best route, and which way I should turn next. Come to think of it, it might be safer to just be lost. The digital age

Then, there’s the constant software updates. It seems like I get offers for at least one or two new updates a month, each one purported to make my cell phone better…better video…better navigation…more functions…better security. Ironically, each update appears to come with additional problems like shortened battery life, all of a sudden you can’t connect to wi-fi, you can no longer make phone calls; you know, all the stuff you have the phone for. With each new update I have to go online to check how badly the new update is going to screw up my phone before I download it. I’m convinced this is the old engineering trick of planned obsolescence; they keep sending updates until they’ve screwed up your phone so badly you have to buy a new one. It’s better all right, for the cell phone manufacturer’s profit margin. The digital age

Two other things are a pain with my cell phone. First, there’s all the solicitor calls. Telemarketers can apparently now purchase whole banks of numbers, and keep calling you with numbers with area codes from all over the country. I’m really not concerned about extending my car warranty, or signing up for a new magazine that I can read for free online. It’s gotten so I don’t even answer the damn thing anymore unless it’s a member of my family. I just let it go to voice mail. If it’s important, they leave a VM and I might get back to them. The other problem is that I take a nap, or two, or three a day. It never fails that as soon as I fall asleep a telemarketer will call. I usually turn off the phone while napping, but sometimes I forget. It’s annoying. The digital age

Then there’s my laptop. I love the fact that I can write my novels and access the internet on the thing, and it’s so small I can carry it around with me and fit it on my lap. When I was born, a computer was the size of a building, not exactly a personal use device. However, as with the smart phone, with the never-ending updates…better security…more features…eventually fills up the hard drive so you have to buy a new laptop. And, you can’t refuse the updates, because the providers eventually stop supporting the old ones. Why don’t they just set a small explosive charge in each laptop, so that at a specific time and date the thing self-destructs like the tape player on the old show Mission Impossible. I’d prefer that to all the updates, with all the glitches. The digital age

Also, some laptops have become so thin that they don’t look all that durable. Some have gotten so thin that there’s no room for a USB port anymore. You gotta buy a separate attachment for the USB, for which you pay extra and which I would most likely immediately lose. Their marketers say this is better, because the laptop is lighter. This reminds me of when the car manufacturers tried to tell us that the plastic bumper was better than the old steel ones, because it was lighter, giving better gas mileage. I’d rather have a steel bumper in a crash any day, but that’s just me. And, I’d rather have a couple of USB ports built right into my laptop.” The digital age

I also hate the new operating system updates that completely change your laptop format. I’ve just figured how to set up a given OS screen the way I like it, when a new one shows up. All of a sudden you can stack files, the icons are all different, I can’t find my Apps and my internet connection is all screwed up. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time being the IT guy fixing their update screw-ups than I do actually using the laptop. The digital age

Streaming video is another digital tech that is great, some of the time. It’s fun to binge watch an entire TV series. For example. I’ve done this with shows like NCIS, Monk and Star Gate. I find when I watch episodes in order I learn a lot more about the characters and understand the overall plot. However, my wife and I subscribe to Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, and we still have difficulty finding a good movie that we can agree on to watch. With Hulu TV, I pay extra to fast-forward through the commercials, but they keep changing the rules for this function. First you could avoid commercials on the existing movies in their database. Recently I was told that this function is only available for movies I have recorded off of Hulu TV. Life is confusing enough without these random rule changes. The digital age

Then there’s Amazon Prime Video. There are free movies with commercials, free movies without commercials, and pay per view movies. It’s irritating to wander through this maze of confusion, trying to find something good to watch. It’s even more frustrating because whenever I put currently free movies into my “LIST”, in a day or two they magically morph into movies with a price attached. I prefer not to pay a fee to watch a 10-year-old movie, even if it’s only $1.99, when I’m already paying a subscription fee. Bill Gates apparently has a humongous house with an aquarium with a whale in it. I guess the guy who owns Amazon wants to one-up Gates by coming up with enough money to just buy the entire ocean, so he doesn’t need a freakin’ aquarium. The digital age

I’ve had some interesting experiences with the digital homes thing recently too. We already have a couple of security cameras that change constantly with updates. I don’t like the cloud, so I prefer storing information on my own disks. At first, I could store camera footage of recorded motion on a Sansdisk memory card and watch it. Then a software update removed this capability, or at least made it much more difficult to do, for the purpose of forcing us to subscribe to the company’s cloud. People must have complained, because further updates returned the capability of using the memory card. Meanwhile, I’m going crazy trying to figure out how to relearn the software that changed dramatically with each update. Probably much easier to just leave the door unlocked and leave a sign on the door that says, COME ON IN AND TAKE WHAT YOU WANT. The digital age

Then I completely lost my mind and bought four of those internet Alexa-controlled smart bulbs. They should be renamed smart-ass bulbs. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “Alexa, turn on living room bulb 1”, and her response has been “Sorry, check living room bulb 1 for power and internet connection”. The solution? Walk to the wall switch and turn it off and back on again. As my wife astutely pointed out to me, what’s the point of a smart bulb if you still have to use the wall switch every time you use them? My response, silence and a 20-point increase in my blood pressure. Perhaps they should be renamed killer smart bulbs. The digital age

Don’t get me started on the digital age of automobiles. I’ve already talked about the hazards of CarPlay. Can you imagine a digital car that requires the same type of daily updates as a cell phone or laptop? You’d never get to actually drive the damn thing. You’ll just sit in your garage behind the wheel watching the little wheel turn round and round on the screen while the thing uploads the latest update. And, what excitement when you do finally get to drive the car and discover the latest software glitches. Could be anything from changes in the effectiveness of the brakes to your adaptive cruise control. The digital age

Perhaps your adaptive cruise control, in an attempt to become global, might confuse feet with inches or millimeters, in which case you might find yourself six inches behind that tractor trailer instead of six feet. Then, there’s the hackability of all of these digital components, so some 12-year-old can hack into your steering and drive you off a cliff. Or, hack into your throttle and show you what it’s like to go 120 mph in town. Try explaining that to Officer Jones. The digital age

Finally, we’re headed for all electric cars, or EVs, and then self-driving cars. Does anyone really believe that our esteemed federal government is capable of upgrading the national electrical grid to handle daily charging of every car in America? Good luck Florida, Arizona and the hot states with ever having air conditioning again, and no more electric heat in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Good luck with that. (Oh crap, I live in Florida). The concept of self-driving cars is especially intriguing to me. They call them self-driving, but they don’t tell you where they’re going to drive you. Again, with all the software updates, who knows where you might end up. The digital age

Finally, there’s social media. This was an ingenious invention. Someone came up with a way to create a digital media that is completely addictive to most people and at the same time allows corporations to steal all of your personal information, so they can sell it to marketers. You know, those irritating people that call you on the cell phone while you’re taking a nap, or send you so-called targeted advertisements on TV or your cell phone. They try to spin it like they are doing you a favor by only sending you ads that you might be interested in. Like the ads I pay extra to Hulu to fast forward through. I share an Amazon account with my wife and a daughter, so I get some really interesting “targeted ads”. I’ll leave the rest of that thought up to your imagination. The digital age

The digital age has really morphed the good old US of A, from a country that used to manufacture cars, refrigerators, heat pumps, water heaters…all kinds of things, to a country whose only commerce consists of stealing your personal information and selling it to multi-national companies so they can send you targeted ads. I’m old enough to remember when network TV started, and there were advertisements for toothpaste, cars, the usual stuff. Most people found the ads to be irritating. So, someone got the idea to start cable TV. You would pay for broadcasting and they therefore didn’t need to have ads to make a profit. Then, after a couple of years, commercials started appearing on cable TV. Now, as I said above, I pay Hulu to fast forward through the commercials, sort of. The digital age

I can’t wait for EVs and self-driving cars, where the corporations have control of the software. That hands free trip in the car will most likely come complete with advertisements blaring from the sound system, or streaming across the no longer useful windshield, or whatever type of computer screen is included in the vehicle. The only good news here is that there won’t be enough computer chips to build this fleet of cars and everyone will be driving around in gasoline cars left over from the 1980s. Or, everyone will be walking because there won’t be any more gasoline cars at all and the electrical grid will be down all the time, so we won’t be able to charge our mandatory EVs. Maybe I should invest in Schwinn bicycles. The digital age

To answer my original question, does this digital age make my life any easier? I don’t know about easier, but it certainly makes it more annoying. What I’m really looking forward to is flying cross country in an electric passenger jet, and hearing the pilot say, “Would everyone please return to your seats and put on your parachutes. Our battery just ran out of charge, the grid’s down and there’s no charging station for hundreds of miles anyhow. Please remain calm and jump from the plane in an orderly manner.” The digital age

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll probably also like my comedy murder mysteries, PLEASURIA, MURDER BY ROAD TRIP, and coming soon, THE REALTOR’S CURSE. See for more.