It's hard to follow the directions of progress


TELL ME THE TRUTH," Slats Grobnik said. "Am I a real stupid person?"

Of course not. I mean, not all the time. We all have our moments.

"Then how come I can't cook a frozen pizza?"

Sure you can. Just follow the directions on the package.

"How can I follow the directions when I can't turn on the oven?"

You can't turn on an oven?

"That's what I mean about me being stupid."

Nonsense. Anybody can turn on an oven. You just turn the knob.

"You haven't seen our new oven. There ain't no knob. It's got like a computer."

Ah, you have a new modern oven with digital controls.

"Right. And last night I was home alone and I was gonna cook myself a frozen pizza for dinner. But I couldn't do it. I start poking the thing, and the oven starts asking me questions. And when I didn't poke the right answer, it beeped at me. Imagine that? I spend all that money on an oven, and it beeps at me? Why do they make ovens like that?"

That's progress. High tech.

"What was wrong with low tech? You turn a knob, maybe two knobs, and that was it. I must have cooked a thousand frozen pizzas in my life, and I never had no trouble. Now I can't even get the oven turned on."

Did you read the manual?

"Why should I have to read a book to cook a frozen pizza? My mudder cooked a million meals, and she never read anything but True Romance magazine."

You really should read the manual.

"OK, I admit it. I tried to read the manual. But I didn't understand it. Just like I didn't understand the manual for setting my video machine. If I want to tape a movie that comes on at 2 o'clock in the morning, I got to set my alarm clock and get out of bed to do it. Except I can't do that either."

Why not? Just set the clock.

"Because we bought a digital radio alarm clock, and I don't know how that works either. And don't tell me to read the manual. I did. And it's just as goofy as the manual for the microwave."

You have a microwave oven?

"Yeah, but all I can do with it is heat a cup of water for instant coffee. I used to put water in an old $2 kettle to make instant coffee. Now I heat a cup of water with a $200 microwave oven."

If you have this much trouble with appliances, how do you operate your personal computer?

"I don't operate it. I just go in the basement and swear at it once in a while."

Then why did you buy it?

"Because I read a story in the newspaper that said that a PC would make my life easier. It would keep track of everything. I could just dial the telephone and get all kinds of info that would make me smarter and maybe more successful. Just punch a few buttons, and I'd be in the know, see?"

Well, they are supposed to do that.

"Yeah, then I took it home and got it hooked up. And that's when I found out about dose."

Those what?

"You know, dose."

No, I don't know. Those what?

"That's the language you got to learn to run a computer."

Oh, you mean DOS.

"Yeah, dose or DOS, whatever you call it, you got to know how to talk it. But it's like a foreign language. No, it's even worse than that. It's like a foreign language, and the manual that tells you how to understand it sounds like it was wrote by crazy people. Now how am I supposed to operate a machine if I got to learn a foreign language from crazy people?"

So you bought a PC that you don't use?

"I use it a little. Once in a while, I turn it on. Then I type out a message that says: 'I hate you, you lousy bag of blips.' Then it sends me back a message that says I made a mistake. So I type out, '(Bleep) you.' And even worse. I call it every name in the book and then some. And it keeps sending back a message that I made a mistake. But you know what? I think it knows what I'm saying, but it just won't admit it because it don't want me to have the satisfaction."

I don't understand this. If you are confused and intimidated by all of this high technology -- and millions of Americans are -- why do you torture yourself by buying these things? Use a ledger instead of a computer program. Heat your water in a kettle. Get an old-fashioned wind-up alarm clock.

"What, and miss out on all this progress?"

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