How to preserve your sanity while keeping up with digital technology

Nothing speaks better to our technology challenges than a word cloud like this.

Do we all need to do a reset on our defaults?

Just when we got a little more comfortable in our living rooms, they rearranged the furniture.

The metaphor here refers to digital technology…you know, the stuff we’ve become addicted to and rely on now to keep us from total isolation. And ignorance. But digital technology is also capable of driving us stark raving mad.

That’s what happened to me last Sunday. If I hadn’t been in church, I would have erupted in some really bad words.

‘You are out of data. You cannot livestream.’

We were about to start the weekly livestream of our church service. Each Sunday I’ve been able to set my iPad on a tripod, mount an external microphone on the top, aim it all at the pastor and hit a start button on the church’s Facebook Live group. It’s a good feeling to see familiar names pop on to watch the live church service. Yeah, they get to stay in their PJs and drink their coffee while hearing the weekly sermon, while we had to get semi-dressed up. But it makes me feel like a good Girl Scout to enable this virtual service.

But last Sunday, the feed did not happen. Or it happened in fits and starts as I saw a message on screen that said I was out of data.

What? I had just increased the plan to unlimited so I wouldn’t run out of data. I fumed through the entire service, missed the point of the sermon and then resorted to holding my iPhone on my knee to film the last of the service.

Just wait until I get home, I said under my breath to (nameless national phone company). Yeah, well, good luck with that, they probably answered. It’s called customer service. But no longer does it involve a customer actually getting to connect with a live agent. Nowadays we have chat services for that. More people working from home in their jammies and drinking their coffee and getting paid for it.

Customer service has changed lately….and not for the better, but at least there’s Chat.

Is this the new face of customer service?

Oh, you can try to get a live agent from customer service on a Sunday, but will be told the wait could be longer, as call volume is higher than normal (isn’t it always?)

“Would you like to hold your place in line and let us call you back at this number,” the dialogue box noted.

“Yes, please.” Fifteen minutes pass. The phone rings. A mechanical robot voice intones, “Your customer service representative will be with you shortly.”

Fifteen minutes pass. No customer service representative. By now I’ve been to the bathroom, started making lunch and cleaned the stove. I hang up in disgust.

Fifteen minutes more. Text message from unnamed phone company appears on my screen.

“May I help you?”

One hour and 27 minutes later, after wearing out my fingers typing messages to a robot (or was this a real person sitting in Timbuktu drinking coffee in their pajamas?) I learn that the extra data I ordered online two weeks ago does not go into effect until November 19. Would you like it to go into effect today?

Would I be typing and mis-typing with my fat fingers on a tiny phone screen just because it’s fun? Now, $189 and a giant headache later, I think we have a plan that will allow me to stream our church services each week without worrying about running out of data.

Except that the church board voted two days later to suspend in-person services until the Covid -19 infection rates in the county go down considerably.

Since that fateful Sunday, I’ve compiled at least three more examples of how this harsh new technology era is about to turn many of us into screaming meanies.

More examples of current tech snafus

• People who want to open a pdf file on a PC laptop running Windows 10 now frequently encounter problems with Microsoft’s new browser, Edge. That new browser will soon replace Internet Explorer. There are work arounds to the new difficulties. They require resetting your defaults in the browser.

• This week one of my book clients tried to send me photos from her new iPhone. The photos came to me in some kind of unrecognizable format. It wasn’t a jpeg. I couldn’t place it in my client’s book. She had to go reset a bunch of defaults, educate herself about this new extension on her photos (done to save storage space) and get them back to me so I could format Chapter 13 of her book. (Is there a bit of superstition at work here?)

• Thinking I knew what I was doing, I recently paid $149 to get a premium plan through Zoom so I could interview guests in zoom and broadcast simultaneously to Facebook Live. Except that it does not work because of something called latency. My internet service provider only gives us 1 megabyte per second on upload speeds and 3 point something on download. That’s all we can get out here in rural Kansas. I order the latest technology from our local ISP. But when the technician arrives, he lets us know that the nearest tower for the most modern equipment is 30 miles away—too far to pick up a signal. We are stuck in Lodi again. Why did the saleswoman not know that? Grrrr!

The T-shirt that gives me hope.

Trying not to be a Covid Crybaby

I’m trying so hard to be positive; to be a good girl and not a Covid crybaby. In fact, I see all the silver linings we’ve all snatched from the pandemic clouds surrounding us. I’ve been grateful for the ability to strengthen and maintain friendships on virtual platforms these many months of adjusting to new realities. When I encounter difficulties, I know I need to follow my husband’s advice and take three deep breaths.

As a Covid Thanksgiving gift to readers, I want to share some humble advice to help others navigate this painful new reality we face with technology. Here are a few things I’ve learned when I’ve stepped outside of the frustration zone and into the lifelong learning zone:

• Keep an open, agile mind and a lifelong learner perspective. The pandemic has made so many businesses and educational institutions move to virtual platforms. And while the learning curve can be frustrating, there are awesome opportunities here to keep our minds agile and adaptable. If you want to learn a new skill or understand how to do something, search for a YouTube video or an online tutorial or even an entire class.

• Try to be patient, even if you want to throw the *&^% computer or phone through a window and bite your husband’s head off. As the unintended object of my frustrations always urges me…take three deep breaths. Maybe even sleep on the problem. Get away from it. Take a walk outside and get your head out of electronics for a bit. You’ll come back to the situation with a new, refreshed attitude and the realization that if the world ended tomorrow, if you succumbed to Covid, this little frustration or learning curve would not matter a bit.

• Ask for help. Alternatively, be content with having things that don’t operate at warp speed or with total efficiency. I often ask my son for help. He knows so much more than I do about digital technology. And while we tried not to be those aggravating older Americans who can’t get their TV to operate correctly, we’ve had to own our disabilities. A year or more ago, we asked my son’s help to set up a way for our old analog surround sound system and DVD player to talk to our Smart TV, he hasn’t had the time. And now he doesn’t travel, thanks to Covid. So we just never watch DVDs and I use my hearing aids to listen to movies. Thank God I learned how to stream Netflix and Prime. And now, thanks to my new data plan with my phone company, I can finally watch Yellowstone on Hulu. For six months anyway.

•Don’t multi-task when you are learning or trying to understand a new technology wrinkle. Don’t take your laptop or phone to the bathroom and expect to complete two jobs at once. Enough said.

• If it’s not broken, try to avoid fixing or buying new. Operate on old platforms and equipment until you have to get new stuff. I have two older desktop computers. One of them is way beyond support and the other is nearing its obsolescence. But thanks to new subscription services, rather than installed software, I can continue using the computer by connecting to online platforms. The minute you buy a new computer or piece of equipment, a new learning curve begins. Avoid it if you can. Upgrade if you must.

•Be grateful for small victories and inches of progress. This week I read half of The Velveteen Rabbit to my grandkids on FaceTime. They appeared to listen and watch as I turned the camera around and aimed it at the colorful pages. Since I can’t be with them right now, that was enough.

And boy howdy, was I ever excited when we told Alexa to print out our shopping list. She complied and managed to find the nearest printer on the network…without any help from us.

•Be aware that the more you learn about technology, the more you may be called upon to use your new knowledge to help others. But isn’t that what we are on earth for? To lift up each other?

• Be aware of your limitations. While you may get tasked with helping your church, your neighbor, your favorite organization with your tech skills, be aware of your limitations and be open to continued learning. There are a lot of things I know enough about to be dangerous. I tried to help out my local Sweet Adelines group with a virtual chorus project. While I learned a lot about editing audio tracks and putting them together on one track in Garage Band, I didn’t have the foundational knowledge of unit vocal sound and how to manipulate audio to produce a satisfying project. That should have been left to a professional with experience.

• Be ready to make choices.

My husband’s favorite saying is “We have one decision to make in life—participate or not participate.” My ancillary to his saying is “Once you make the decision, be prepared to pay the price.”

The price we pay for trying to stay on top of technology? Dry eyes from staring at screens too long. Thinner hair from pulling out strands in frustration. Lost moments and quality time with loved ones while we’re engrossed in our electronics trying to figure out the latest upgrade.

It’s all a matter of balance.

May the (Quantum Physics) Force and God be with us all.

When doggie routines get hacked by the time change

Our Miniature Toy Aussie doesn’t have sheep to herd so she herds me while I clean house.

Remember last week when I submitted those pie-in-the-sky suggestions for a new pandemic routine?

Yeah, well, that list flew out the window today, thanks to the time change.

We humans have a tough enough time adjusting to the ridiculous and artificial manipulation of the hours of the day. But consider how messed up our furry friends get with all this.

It started yesterday, of course. We had not reset the clock on the dresser that we always seek out with early, unfocused eyes. I got up at 6:30 a.m. Sunday…except that it was 5:30. But I only got up because the cat started meowing then. That’s when he always gives us a wakeup call.

‘Poor, poor pitiful Mr. Kitty’

Mr. Cat repeated his routine call again this morning at 5:30 DST. I went to the bathroom, acknowledged a kitty tail curling around my legs, then went right back to bed. Not kosher. He just increased the volume of the “Poor, poor pitiful me” tune. Down the stairs we go, with dog number one standing and staring uncertainly down at us. She seemed to be asking, “Are you sure it’s time for breakfast?”

I got the Gravy Lover’s pop top popped for cat, then hear Number One Fido’s nails on the floor. She’s ready too. Popped the Purina open for her. Meal over. Time to go outside.

When we come back in, I hear toenails belonging to Fido number two click-clacking into the kitchen. Time for her feeding, followed by a pill disguised in chunky peanut butter. Then guess what? Time to let her outside.

Our daily routine calls for dividing a long rawhide chew into three globs of hardened animal fat and questionable proteins; one for each canine. That way I’m assured they won’t overdose on chemicals imported from China’s rawhide industry. When Number Three Fido hears the lid of that snack box open, that’s when I hear her four feet hit the floor and she magically appears at my side…as if arriving by transponder from outer space. She lives for those poisonous treats. Once her treat is gulped down, time to take her outside.

Four animals, four separate feedings now

So, four animals equals four separate feedings equals three separate potty runs (the cat went out the first time) outdoors. Before the time change, we did all that in one group zoom session. And before it got cold outside, I walked with them the entire length of the driveway to pick up the newspaper, usually giving them enough time to potty twice and throw in a number two. Today and yesterday I kept my warm jammies on and made a run for the driveway, hoping the hood on my fleece-lined jacket hid my face enough that the three drivers who went by as I bent over for the paper didn’t recognize the sleepy human inside. The bigger fear was that someone would realize the plaid on my jacket clashed garishly with the plaid on my pajama bottoms. (Oh, the shame!)

The point to this drivel is that all of this was abnormal routine. In fact, it set the stage for the rest of the day to get glaringly out of sync. Instead of eating breakfast at our usual time, after one of us finally answered the tough question of the day (what to fix for breakfast), my husband and I just sat on the couch. He read the paper and I made my to-do list and read a book. Neither of us could wake up.

When we finally got around to eating the meal, I started sorting my weekly supplements and medications into their little cubbyholes and noticed that the time change yesterday had hacked my memory. I hadn’t taken my morning pills on Sunday.

How to get hacked the day before an election

About that time, Wayne got hacked while gathering trash when he received a phone call that the poll workers were waiting at the church to unload their equipment for tomorrow’s election. My husband had agreed to substitute for another church member and open the door for them. The poll workers had evidently forgotten to call anyone with an arrival time. Then one of the workers forgot her phone and forgot to load some equipment, so left a worker with Wayne to go retrieve the lost items.

Back home, I was doing the daily dishwasher loading and kitchen cleanup and noticed a large, spreading stain on the carpet. My screams of “Who did this?” had no effect on any potential guilty party. I decided to tackle Wayne’s undone chore of taking the trash to the curb, reasoning that all three canines probably had not had sufficient time to do their usual morning ritual. I shooed them all down the driveway with me as I pushed the garbage to the road. That did produce the desired result but there was still a stain to clean.

And, it was Monday; laundry and floor cleaning day. While I would prefer to do the task myself, we have an Australian Shepard who has to herd someone, since we have no sheep or cattle. She herds my every domestic chore. Her two sisters used to drive me batty when I swept the floor, as they had to inspect every dirt particle to see if any of it was edible. Now they stay out of Brandy’s way while she herds. And instead of me employing herding calls, I yell, “Brandy, move!” She doesn’t seem to mind a steam mop hissing in her face or a vacuum threatening her leg hairs. She’s just doing her work, herding her mama. Even now, she parks her carcass a few feet from my computer desk, watching the stairs for an invasion.

One of these canines is the party guilty of leaving a stain on the carpet this morning. Their excuse? The time change.

I will be so grateful to crawl under the covers tonight. This time change, while it supposedly gave us an extra hour of sleep, has messed with the bio-rhythms of every critter in this house. We have one clock yet to change…in the bedroom. It will be done tonight. I do not want another reminder of what time it used to be when the cat wakes us up in the morning. I plan to go to bed with something I can throw at him at 5:30 a.m. DST, a twilight zone where my body still believes it lives.

The two early risers; one who likes the mop, the other who heads upstairs to hide under the bed.