What do they want from us?

What do they want from us?

It’s tough enough to be old, with aching bodies, diminishing hearing and vision, and the world telling us that we’re too ancient to do routine things like driving our cars.

Being old is the reward for a long life, but it’s not always so rewarding. Younger folks are constantly putting stumbling blocks in front of us, making us often feel inept, incompetent, and needy. And the bad news is that that’s often reality. For example, let’s talk about us oldsters who may have varying views about computers — and our personal skills as we strive to coexist with them.

Let me preface by telling you that using the word processor on my computer is amazing, wonderful, and a huge time saver. I remember typing on my old Royal typewriter, my eighth-grade graduation present in 1953. It was manual, incapable of correcting typos, and minus many other functions that made simple jobs mammoth. I recall discovering a mistake, usually at or near the bottom of the page. There was no easy way of correcting it, and that forced me to type the whole thing all over again. Or smearing (shmearing!) everything with black ink from that truly offensive, disgusting and miserable carbon paper that we used to make copies of our work. No. I am not complaining about word processing. If I had to get rid of either my dishwasher or my computer’s word processor, there goes the dishwasher!

My gripe today is about computers that go beyond word processing, which is all of them, the bane of my existence these past 30 plus years or so.

My own story started in the real estate office where I had long worked. Every agent in the office kept a black notebook, large, at least three inches thick, unwieldy, and heavy. Any new information, including sales, new listings, updates, or changes, had to be manually input into those notebooks. One day, seemingly out of the blue, we were told by management that all the information in our notebooks would now be computerized.

Huh? What? Gevalt!

Most of my fellow agents, who were often quite intelligent and capable retirees from other careers, had never met up with a computer. They knew how to relate to their notebooks, which, as tedious and time-consuming as they were, were known entities. Many of them simply refused to give up the notebooks and continued to do the daily updates manually. For years!

I was lucky enough to have a computer whiz still living at home. That was our son. He (often not patiently) taught me how to download and print the computerized version of the updates. Once I got the hang of it, and even became capable of submitting information as well as receiving it, I understood how brilliant the newfangled computerization really was. Literally, an hour’s work could be done in seconds. Nice!

If it would have ended there, I’d have been quite satisfied. But, no. They had more challenges ahead. Endless new challenges.

Computers rush ahead, so that just when I’ve mastered one tool, a hundred new ones have come my way. I am no longer agile in mind or body. I cannot keep up, so I’m always desperately seeking help from family. I don’t prefer or like being pathetic, but indeed I am. And I know that I’m far from the least accomplished of my generation.

Learning to use email was an easy part of computerization, and most of us oldsters have active accounts. But it’s far from the be-all-end-all. It’s now taken for granted, and I can honestly say that all my peers have long had email accounts, which they handle quite competently. If only that was it!

And here’s giant applause for WhatsApp. Wow! Brilliant and fabulous are understatements. I can instantly be in touch, by phone or text, with friends and family in Israel, America, or just about anywhere else in the world where Jews hang out. And it’s free. And I can Facetime with them as well. Remember when a phone call to Israel was a big big big deal, with busy circuits, long delays in connection, and other miseries such as giant price tags? How in the world can they now do it all for free? Don’t try to explain, as I’ll certainly be unable to understand it. But it’s amazing, and if my life with computers were merely to include email and WhatsApp, dayenu!

The problem is that’s not the end. Other bloodsuckers are out to challenge me constantly.

I’m talking about you, doctors! You and your check ins and constant reminders and forms to fill out online. Sometimes I do fine with them, but then you throw me curve balls. You ask for me to include photos of my driver’s license and insurance cards. Oy! How do I do that? You ask for endless downloads of repetitive information that I’m sure you never look at. You just have someone check it all as submitted and stick it into your own computer never to be referenced, ever!

And then there are the charts. Before I even walk out of your office the chart often has been downloaded with the same information that we’ve just discussed. You obviously think I’m so demented that I won’t remember our chat. Maybe you’re right, but the constant updates are annoying, and worst of all, I need to know endless passwords. Endless passwords merely to see a rehash of a conversation.

Talk to me about passwords. This is medieval torture. I have passwords for everything and then you change the formulas, you being all of you out there who want to communicate with me, who really want to just boss me around! I’m really willing to live dangerously and dispose of all my passwords. Seriously! I’ll take the risks inherent in someone else logging into my accounts. I’ll even tell you my big secret so that I can be verified as me. It’s that my favorite vegetable as a kid was canned peas. There’s nothing very secret on any of my computer stuff, except the passwords! And when I decide I’ve got a favorite password that I’ll use over and over, you tell me that’s a bad idea or that I have to add a symbol or some other more secure thingy, to make my life miserable! Can we please have an election where we vote to un-elect passwords. I hate them with a passion.

But that’s not enough. Stores and shopping sites are all in on this stuff. I can understand why retail outlets want to know who I am so they can sell me stuff, and during the height of the pandemic, I even bought groceries online. But now, with a mask on, we actually do shop for ourselves. So why does the market need to torture us? Really!

Supermarkets have coupons in the newspapers and online. Why on Earth I’ll never know. They can surely advertise their “metzias” without insisting that I cut coupons or, worst of all, use digital coupons. I’ve tried to add digital coupons on my computer, but I usually do not succeed, necessitating a visit with the customer service desk, which loads the coupons onto my account. Look at that work. A paid employee uses his/her time to do something which could and should be unnecessary. Forget all the coupons and everyone will be happy, and the employees could be doing something with more merit.

The plans to constantly demoralize me include those little black and white boxes on the screen. These are called QR Codes, for Quick Response Codes. They are brilliant, but apparently, I am not. They don’t seem to work for me, and I’ve had issues when they are mandatory, which they were recently in Jerusalem, during the pandemic, where in order to leave the country I had to scan my vaccinations onto a document using the QR. Laughing all the way, the young Arab employee at the mall where this was happening did the dastardly deed for my husband and me. Showing the paper trail of our numerous vaccinations did not suffice. It was QR or not traveling!

Please don’t tell me that I need to ask for help. Online help speaks a different language from us elders. Uploads or downloads, they tell me things that I just do not grasp.

Recently some of my grandchildren were trying to figure out why my phone has such short battery life. They think some of my apps are constantly running, using up my battery.

I tell them to forget about my battery’s life — computers are sucking my own life. Just when I think I’ve got it, there’s something more high-tech, more complex, more incomprehensible, more obtuse.

Let me face reality. I’ll never be good at this stuff. I can’t think technically and I certainly didn’t grow up with it. Maybe I should just hire a sixth-grader to teach me, in simple language, everything I need to know. Of course the problem is that today’s lesson will be obsolete tomorrow. Just like me!

Be in touch at rosanne.skopp@gmail.com

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three.    She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel.  She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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