A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Technological failures and flops challenge users of all ages

I swipe my card. Nothing happens. The young man behind the counter says, “Try again.”

Still nothing.

Immediately I feel guilty, sure I did something wrong.

He taps a few keys on his console and frowns at the screen. Nada. He unplugs the modem and we wait. In the uneasy silence, a blush creeps from his collar to his jawbone and cheeks, finally resting on the tips of his earlobes.

(Photo provided)

Other maneuvers fail. Customers stack up behind me.

“I’m not supposed to be working alone tonight,” the clerk says as he reaches for his phone. On the other end, the boss seems to be of little help.

One by one, customers drop their purchases and leave, some of them muttering, others loudly irate.

Attempting to comfort him I blurt, “Happens to me all the time.”

He keeps trying but eventually, I realize my presence, however empathetic, is not helping, so I give up too and head elsewhere.

Techno-failures and flops happen to everyone, but reactions run the gamut from active problem-solving to self-recrimination and every shade of gray in between. According to the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), more than 90% of Americans have internet access, with 77% reporting broadband access at home. Moreover, with 90% of the world‘s data generated between 2019 and today and still accelerating, keeping pace with technology is increasingly essential at work, at home, no matter what your age.

Take, for example, a woman in her early fifties who runs a thriving at-home business. She admits she has tried to stay current with technology, “but it moves so fast! I’m fortunate my husband is a tech nerd. I have to keep up just to be able to turn on the lights in my house.”

A younger reader from Paducah insists, “I am fine with phones, computers, software, apps and Uconnect, but if you want to blow my mind, dump a pile of these in my lap.” (She includes a photo of three remotes – pictured above — that drive her mad.)

A woman from New Jersey confesses to using an “old” (six years) cell. She declared, “I just got notice from my iPhone telling me I hadn’t backed it up for 411 weeks. I didn’t know I had to and why tell me now?”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

A New Yorker cartoon presents a typical dilemma in an exchange between two mourners graveside. One explains to the other, “In order to make an appointment, he first had to update his operating system, download an app, get a username, choose a password, log in to a health portal, navigate to messages and write his doctor…By then,” she declares, “it was too late.”

To solve such problems, a former Forest Service worker advises, “Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” while a Florida retiree recommends saying “eff it” every now and then.

A university development administrator looks at her parents, ages 76 and 80, as role models. “I feel like such a dinosaur,” she says, “because they do TV streaming and I still am clueless about it.”

A librarian from Ithaca, NY, also overcame aging-induced inertia. She reports that the people in her building, all seniors, “think of me as some sort of wunderkind with technology.”

She goes on to reveal that she gladly retired ten years ago. “…because the tech constantly changed…Ten years ago!” she exclaimed, “an eternity in tech time.”

A globetrotter from Murray tells of a techno-tragedy that occurred on a two-week cruise to South Africa. Her phone blew into the water and was never recovered. “Unfortunately, my camera fell out of my coat pocket on the bus after the safari,” she added, “so I didn’t even have a way to take pictures.”

When she landed in Nashville, her immediate mission was to purchase a new phone. “I felt like a piece of me was missing without my phone. Everything is connected to it.”

A thirty-something artist from Milwaukee explores another issue. “Tech in the art world is an interesting topic,” she remarks. “What I’ve observed from those conversations is that Tech is simply just another tool. But if you don’t stay informed you become obsolete from that conversation.”

She goes on to explain, “In the workplace, your job depends on you needing to speak the language of your co-workers. As a teacher, you need to speak the language of your students. And perhaps, scariest of all, as a parent you have to navigate all sorts of new and ever-evolving technologies that can torment your children.”

Help is available at every turn, but users of all ages need to access them. One place to begin is AARP, which offers online articles and videos in a Personal Technology Resource Center. Some of the topics include titles like “What You Need (And Don’t) to Make Your Home Smart,” and “Smartwatches Track Fitness and Move to Monitoring Health.”

To build in-demand job skills, another AARP lifeline provides a systematic approach to acquiring technical skills that make you workplace ready.

For Luddites and techno-deniers, a possible approach comes from a retired Kentucky state worker. “Be good to your grandchildren or other people in your life under 30 years of age,” she advises. “They have the answers to the mysteries of technology.”

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