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Richard Szlosek First Person: A crisis of digital proportions

  • Richard Szlosek with is dog, Breezy, at his home in Northampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Richard Szlosek at his home in Northampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Richard Szlosek with his cell phone at his home in Northampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Richard Szlosek at his home in Northampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Richard Szlosek at his home in Northampton.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

The other day I was ready to leave the house and made my final preparations. I put on my shoes, grabbed my watch and unplugged my phone from the overnight charger. I pushed the power button and it wouldn’t go on. I tried and tried and nothing happened.

For some reason, a version of the old Kingston Trio song about the MTA came to mind:

Let me tell you a story of a man named Richard on that tragic and fateful day.

He took his cellphone from its charger, pushed the power button and it would not obey.

Would the power return? No, it wouldn’t return ...

Sorry about that. I just couldn’t believe how attached I had become to my phone. It gives me the time and temperature, and reminds me of places I’m supposed to be. I spend more time with it than with my wife. She goes to work every day but the phone stays with me all the time.

It even seems concerned about my welfare. Last summer we were driving through western Pennsylvania when my phone made an unfamiliar ominous sound. It had sent me a message that essentially said, “Hey pal, you’re driving right into the path of a tornado. Get off the road and find shelter.”

We took the advice and, sure enough, soon learned that a small twister crossed the highway 20 miles ahead of us.

A few days later, when we were at Niagara Falls, the phone sent me another message, this one informing me that, if I used it in Canada, I would be subject to a different payment plan. My late mother would be happy to know I am being so well looked after.

But let me return to my immediate problem. I told my oldest son what was happening and he said the battery was probably disconnected. I didn’t see how that could be, but what do I know about these things? I slid the cover off (at least I knew how to do that) and pushed the battery with my finger. It seemed nice and tight to me. I replaced the back and pushed the button. Zilch.

I drove over to the store of my wireless provider. Before I entered, I became very cautious. Life has taught me that there are gremlins around that like to play games with consumers. Who hasn’t had the experience of your car making a strange noise, but when you get it to the mechanic, the sound mysteriously disappears? I wasn’t going to let one of those gremlins get me this time. Out on the sidewalk, I again tried the phone, and still nothing.

All right, I was ready to head in.

A polite, nicely dressed young man greeted me and I explained the situation. He gave me a knowing smile and removed the cover from the back. I didn’t want to tell him I had already done that and I was fully prepared to purchase a new battery. He removed the battery, put it back in place, closed the cover, pushed the button and said, “Oh look, it’s working.”

All I could manage was a silent Charlie Brown-type lament. “AAAARGH”. Remove the battery and put it back in; I knew that. My son had been right. (Don’t you hate that?)

Well, at least the young man had saved me some money. But I have the sense these sales people gather daily in the back room and amuse each other with tales about folks who just don’t get technology.

The thing is, I do get technology up to a point. I have had a computer since the Commodore 64 was the hottest thing out there. I bought my first cell phone in 1996. I have an iPod, a laptop and a Nook. It’s just that things are moving too fast. For decades, when you wanted to hear music, you placed a record on a turntable, lowered the stylus and your favorite songs were filling the air. But then along came reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, CDs and now digital recordings. Today, music, maps, news and email are all on my smartphone along with a zillion apps and they all depend on that lithium battery in the back.

I’m not really complaining because, as you can see, I’m right there with most of it. In the MTA song, poor Charlie couldn’t get off the train because he didn’t have a nickel to pay the increased fare. Now, it seems to me that we are all permanently riding on the digital express. I may be stuck back in the caboose but I’ve paid my nickel and I’m definitely along for the ride, wherever it may take us.

Richard Szlosek lives in Northampton.

First Person welcomes submissions from readers. Email columns of 800 words or less to Suzanne Wilson at swilson@gazettenet.com.

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