Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Too many bells and whistles

My husband is an intelligent man, but he just can't get the hang of his new iPAQ. Yes, he has a manual and he knows how to read, but his time is precious and he's sick of gadgets. In recent months he's had to deal with a new laptop computer and a new cellphone, and I'm afraid the iPAQ is going to push him over the edge.

These things are supposed to help busy professionals stay organized and enhance their productivity, but I don't see that happening. What I see is a lot of frustration and a lot of back-and-forthing with the IT guys at the office: "This #%*&@! thing isn't working again. I can't access my e-mail." A whole new problem seems to crop up every few days.

The other day, my hunk o' burnin' love plugged his earpiece into the iPAQ and phoned me to test the connection. "Can you hear me now?" he asked, just like that annoying guy on TV.

He was lucky I didn't hang up on him. You don't need an iPAQ, dear. What you need is to get your life back.

Must we really be at everyone's beck and call 24/7? Is it absolutely necessary to check our e-mail every twenty minutes throughout the day?

I don't think so. I'm advising my husband to ditch the electronics and go back to the DayTimer he used for years. Back in those days, he never had to wait until Monday morning to catch the IT guy and ask how to enter a phone number into his database.

Both of us used to be wild for gadgets. We were always the first kids on our block to pick up the latest CD players, cell phones, and so on. But after you've read a hundred manuals and fiddled with as many electronic gizmos (okay, the truth: we never read the manuals unless we couldn't figure something out), the thrill dissipates and you actually begin to resent anything new because it means learning a whole new way of doing things.

We like to think of ourselves as adventurous, but when you get a new cell phone every year and a new computer every couple of years and toss in a new digital camera or a new DVD player or even a new telephone answering machine every now and then, it just becomes too much. It seems like every month you're replacing an old gadget -- that you understand how to use -- with a new one that must be figured out and then set up before you can begin using it.

Oh, I can geek out with the best of them when it comes to my computer. Because I'm a writer, I've made MS Word my personal slave. And because I do a lot of research online, I've learned how to make Google sing and dance. I know HTML and I'm au courant when it comes to jazzing up and promoting my website and this blog. But I use only about 10% of the features available on my Nikon digital camera and I have only six numbers programmed in my cute little cell phone. And my DVD player? When I want to watch a movie I have to ask my teenage son which buttons to push.

I think they keep adding more bells and whistles to electronic gear so they can call stuff "new and improved" and get more shelf space. But I'm ready to get back to the basics. Why don't computers, digital cameras, and cell phones come in plain vanilla models for people who are sick of spending so much time (and money!) on things that are supposed to simplify and organize their lives?

Did you know that the hip crowd has fallen in love with Moleskine notebooks? I realized that a couple of weeks ago when I dropped by Borders with my 22-year-old son and casually mentioned that I needed to buy a new notebook.

"What kind?" he asked, looking around the store, eager to help.

"A nice, sturdy one with really good paper."

He gave me a doubtful look. "You don't mean like a Moleskine?"

That was exactly what I meant. The kid was shocked. How was it that his mom knew about Moleskines?

Uh, because your generation didn't exactly invent them, sweetheart. Did you know that Ernest Hemingway's constant companion (well, other than that bottle of scotch) was a Moleskine notebook?

I ended up buying a jazzy little red leather notebook instead of a Moleskine. It cost $30, but the paper feels wonderful under my fountain pens, and that's the important thing.

There's a great article over at ApartmentTherapy that advocates getting back to the basics with a good notebook and pen. It's a shortie, but several of the comments are thought-provoking, as well. Pop over and read them.

By the way, that's my little red book pictured above. If you clicked on the photo already and viewed the larger image, you probably noticed the last three lines on the page, which were the inspiration for this blog entry:
Too many electronic gadgets in my life. Need to get UNWIRED.


tristan coulter said...

You could always have dad "import" me for a weekend... I figured out how to use his Ipaq, I can teach him.

HerWryness said...

I love all your blog pictures. From here all your possesions are beautiful.

My son is 22 so I say this with some knowledge in my back pocket, (whispering) Tristan probably has some laundry to do. (resuming normal speaking voice) I miss my son's technical expertise. My husband confronts each new challenge with an admirable amount of patience and openness to learn.

I feel much like you do. If I'm pushed into a corner I can be Wilma Flintstone. For about a minute.

Brenda Coulter said...

Tristan, even Jerry (the office's IT guy) is scratching his head over this one. As I understand it, your father told him to fix the iPAQ or stomp it to smithereens.

Your Wryness, I believe you're right about the laundry. The stuff he washed here more than a week ago is bound to be dirty again.

Katie Hart said...

Brenda, just wanted to let you know that reading your blog is one of the favorite parts of my day. Can't think of anything especially witty to add most days, but I enjoy it!

Brenda Coulter said...

Aww, Katie. Thank you.

Neal said...

I'm another gadget freak who is becoming more and more frustrated with the things, and in the last few months I've taken to keeping a personal journal in a Moleskine (an object of desire that I've coveted for years), and boy, what a liberating experience it is! Don't get me wrong, I love gadgets (my last one -- an iPod -- I really could not be without), but for the first time in years I've found myself seriously contemplating ditching the Palm when I've found myself getting frustrated that I couldn't see a particular appointment just like that, or couldn't get this particular view of my list of to-dos, or couldn't get the damned thing to recognise an L with a space without thinking it was a T, or ...

Anyway, just wanted to say that I really appreciated and empathise with your post. This is the first time I've come across your blog (thanks Moleskinerie) and it's a really good read. Thank you.

Brenda Coulter said...

Your Palm Pilot will never love you, Neal. But if you take good care of that Moleskine, it will take care of you. ;-)

Thanks for posting.