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A technophobe in a high tech world

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By Janny Wilcke

Recently I was in the checkout line at Kohl’s when I overheard the salesgirl ask a woman ahead of me if she would like to be put on their e-mail list. “Sorry,” the lady said. “I’m computer illiterate.” With a vague hint of superiority, I thought, “Aha! Someone lower on the old totem pole than me!” The truth is, while I can e-mail –I am not much more advanced on the computer than this woman. About all I can do is log on and off.

My husband calls me a “technophobe,” which is probably true, although I don’t like being shoved in a category with derogatory connotations. It’s a label that implies shortcomings - fear of technology – and I don’t like the idea of being hampered by fear.

Actually, I’m not so sure it’s that I’m afraid of technology as it’s just that I can’t seem to make heads or tails of it. I honestly believe that my mind is not wired to comprehend directions (other than those in cookbooks). Not only did I make a point of buying the most basic sewing machine available, but for years I even avoided pumping gas. It wasn’t laziness. I imagined some catastrophic accident in which the tank overflowed and the whole establishment caught on fire. I used to drive miles out of my way to buy gas at full-service stations. When we moved to Henry County, I was forced to learn and, okay, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought.

But the computer is another matter. I am befuddled watching my husband maneuver the mouse at top speed, clicking here and there in a staccato rhythm. He has been patiently – to his credit – steering me towards a measure of technical competency for years. Three Christmases ago, he beamed while I unwrapped the laptop computer he bought for me. He thought that if I had my own computer, I’d be motivated to learn how to use it. Wrong! It sat untouched for almost a year until he convinced me that e-mailing didn’t require an engineering degree.

His next effort came two years ago – again a Christmas present. It was a digital camera so I could stop getting film developed. Everyone watching admired it, but I didn’t know enough to be properly impressed. Truth be known, I thanked him for his thoughtfulness with no small measure of dread. I am not proud of the fact that the camera stayed in the box for twenty-two months until one day last month when I resolutely sat down with the directions - and wept.

Yesterday, things came to a head. My husband assured me that directions weren’t necessary and that he could have me up and running in no time. He set the camera on the “simpleton” setting, bypassing everything except how to take pictures and review them. That was actually quite simple, and so I took five pictures. Then he taught me how to load them onto the computer, or so he thinks. Actually, I have no idea how he hooked the thing up.

Cell phones were another mystery device that I spurned. But he got me one, and I can call about a dozen numbers my daughter put on direct dial. No lie, I’ve had two dreams in which I had to make emergency calls and couldn’t dial the number … too many buttons on too small a phone. Inadvertently, I have taken dozens of pictures of the floor while trying to check my battery level. I can check for missed calls, but only if there is only one. I cannot text message, change my ring tone (the theme song from Babe), or do any of the other feats the kids do.

Christmas is coming, and I am getting nervous. I’m hoping that Santa brings me presents that don’t have any directions, maybe perfume or a pair of earrings.

Heaven help me if I’m given something like an iPod (whatever that is).