Tuesday 20 August 2019

Liz Kearney: the digital disaster zone

What do you do when you can't even turn on the telly?

Liz Kearney
Liz Kearney
Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

How did I end up a stranger in my own home? I'm alone in the sitting room, surrounded by a pile of remote controls I don't know how to use, shouting at the TV in tears because I can't even turn on The Late Late Show (I don't even like The Late Late Show).

Some of the controls are affiliated with the telly, some with various household alarms and systems, and I don't know if the next button I press will turn the telly on, turn the heating off or detonate a nuclear bomb.

Then the phone rings - or at least that's what it sounds like. It's not my mobile, so it must be the landline. I'd forgotten we even had a landline. Of course, it's not a regular phone. It's a flimsy, digital one and it takes several minutes of frantic searching before I finally locate it underneath a pile of coats. Then I stand there and watch it ring and ring, as the realisation slowly dawns that I have no idea which button to press to answer it.

How did it come to this? I have a degree. I hold down a good job. And yet at home I can't even turn on the TV or answer the telephone. The central heating system is a mystery, the broadband baffles me and I'm so busy trying to remember millions of passwords for everything from my mobile to Verified by Visa, I hardly know my own name anymore.

I couldn't tell you the last time I managed to put some music on either - by the time I'd enabled the broadband, connected the bluetooth, logged in to Spotify, and switched on the Sonos speakers, I'd forgotten why I came into the room in the first place.

This is the promised land that the digital revolution has led us to - or at least those of us who aren't what you might call technologically gifted. Which is why I found myself nodding morosely the other day when Apple Music boss Jimmy Iovine said his new listening service was specifically aimed at making music easier for women to find online.

The feminists were irate. Was Jimmy suggesting that poor thick females weren't able to handle iTunes? Well, I think he kind of was, and this poor thick female happens to agree with him, and she's also strongly suspicious that the notoriously male-dominated technology industry is engaged in an ongoing crusade to make simple things like turning on your telly increasingly intimidating, thereby making geeky product designers feel like geniuses and making the rest of us feel like dopes.

Pre Apple, Microsoft and Google, you flicked a switch on the telly and Bob was your uncle. If you wanted to hear a song you liked, you'd pop your CD into a machine and off you went. It couldn't have been more straightforward.

Then technology took over, and almost overnight, all of those simple pleasures became about 12,000 times more complicated. Now there are multiple switches, endless programmes and a drawer full of cables for obsolete devices. We might have the luxury of endless choice, but I'd take simple functionality over endless choice any day of the week.

Largely because I find all this techie nonsense so boring, I outsource most of the domestic telecommunications management to the nearest willing candidate - my husband.

Like many men, he gets unsettlingly excited by the latest technology and seems not to mind the hours of high-level code-breaking required to do something as simple as watching a movie, so I let him at it.

Meanwhile, I sit happily reading magazines on the sofa while he busies himself programming Coronation Street to record at just the right time, resetting the house alarm after I've accidentally disabled it again, and ensuring that the household banking affairs didn't fall into the hands of scam artists posing as Nigerian royalty.

And as a result of all this outsourcing, I'm now basically useless at anything with buttons. Which is fine as long as the husband doesn't leave the house - but the minute he pops out to the pub for a few hours, chaos ensues and I sit fretting until he returns again. I'm beginning to think this degree of digital ineptitude could be dooming us all to a lifetime of co-dependence.

Could it be that the reason we have the lowest divorce rates in Europe has less to do with our Catholic values and more to do with not being able to leave the man who can work the remote control?

It shouldn't have to be like this. Lately I've been dreaming of a simpler, happier time; a time before the advent of iTunes and Netflix and smartphones and Skype and Sky Store. An era of one solid, old-fashioned telephone on the hall table. A time when passwords were for speakeasies and networks were for friends.

I've been up in the attic, gazing longingly at my piles of much-loved CDs. I think I must dust them off and bring them downstairs, because there's nothing in the world like the real thing. Just don't tell my husband.

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