I debated whether I should be vulnerable and write this piece describing the nerve-wracking experiences I have endured during our electronic age. When I told my writer friend Jeff, he warned me, “There will be some young folks who won’t understand your problems at all. They’re lightning fast on the computer.” Even though those youths and some older adults might think I’m passe, I’m going to risk it because I’m hopeful you readers will share your snafus, and then I won’t feel so alone. I hope the end result of me being vulnerable doesn’t leave me feeling like I’m out in public wearing one of those hospital gowns with the back untied. I would love it if you would write your comments in the box below this blog.
You must give me credit for trek into this new technology. I could have remained a flip-phone devotee and retreated into a den to pull down the shades to binge-watch The AndyGriffith Show, Gunsmoke and Bonanza reruns. (Maybe I’d be better off if I had.)
To be sure, there are many positives about the new era. You can easily self-publish books of your stream of consciousness writings, send instant messages to people you dread speaking with, keep abreast on social media of what friends and family are having for dinner, and compete with coworkers at lunch to see who can look up curious facts on smartphones and blurt them out the fastest. You can rig your house with cameras to monitor dogs, bears and delivery men walking up your driveway while you’re out. You can join the madmen in those free-for-all in brawls on social media who do the equivalent of hurling smoke bombs into crowds.
Officers directing traffic, crossing guards and construction flaggers don’t have to be bored anymore. They can take mini-breaks to check out their smartphones while directing traffic. You ever notice it?
On the downside, marketeers bug us ruthlessly with spam emails, try to hack into our computers, tell us we have a virus they can fix to extort money, jerk our chains by sticking irrelevant messages in our faces, and try to lure us into their perverted worlds with headlines promising sneak peeks at those who’ve had wardrobe malfunctions. The internet has given us opportunities to stimulate our lives by having our identities slandered or stolen. A plea to all you electronics executives out there: please find a way where we can track down these imbeciles in their brick and mortar environments so folks can give them public noogies or wedgies and the authorities can lock up the worst of them.
As for me, I enjoy keeping up keep up with family and friends on social media, and I love that I can use it to promote my books. But my foray has not been without anxious times that have been thrust upon me suddenly. Take this for example. I bought a new laser printer. The directions promised that after a moment online, I’d be good to go. Thinking I’d get it done quickly before bed, I pressed keys as prompted. The printer refused to function. I tried all sorts of things, but nada. These types of situations bring back the type of anxiety I felt as a kid lost in the grocery store, hollering for my mother. I finally wound up on “chat” with a representative, but it took an hour and a half before the printer spit out the first page of my document. My anxiety vanished, and I was thrilled, but I had to jump in bed with my evening tasks undone.
Another night, I tried to connect my laptop and printer via Wi-Fi. I was informed on my screen that I needed to type a PIN number, which I would find on the printer. I failed to find it and gave up for the evening. A few nights later, I thought What the heck, I’ll try it again. I still found no PIN, but for reasons unknown, when I clicked “print” on my laptop my document rolled out of the printer. I have to let release my bitterness in these situations, which I did. I felt the thrill of success.
I Did What?
One afternoon at a gathering, I was the victim of a surprise attack. I was chatting in a semicircle of people with whom I especially want to maintain a good reputation. A woman I know appeared, glared at me and spat out, “You gave me a virus.”
Say what? I could have never imagined anything like this when I rose from my bed that morning. The woman, whom I considered a friend, looked frail and distraught, someone worthy of sympathy.
A virus? Is she hallucinating? We’ve never had physical contact. How could she be so heartless to confront me a time and place such as this?
I felt helpless, not knowing what to say. Anxiety set in. Psychology Today magazine has offered comforting perspective. I’m not the only one who experiences this in our so-called New Age of Anxiety. “We feel anxiety where there is a person, situation or event in our environment that obstructs our goals or values, and we are unsure what to do about it.”
We lingered in awkwardness until one of the ladies said, “Oh, you mean computer virus? So that’s what she meant. “Someone gave me one recently, too.” I thought this would dispel the uneasiness, but my accuser maintained her damsel-in-distress appearance. “I don’t know how to get rid of it.”
Fortunately, the same gracious lady explained that you can get a virus on social media if you accept a false “friend request.” Don’t accept one from someone who is already “a friend.” Feeling relief that all those present knew the virus was not a human thing, and that it wasn’t serious, I explained that she could escape it by changing her password and “securing” her account. Rest assured when I got home the first thing I did was “unfriend” the damsel.
Credit Card Aches and Pains
Take credit cards, for example. A few days after visiting my cousin in Maryland, I received a call from Visa. “Did you charge three-hundred dollars and eighty-five cents at Victoria’s Secret in Hagerstown, Maryland.” I replied, “If I had I would remember.” They concluded that the thief must have gotten my number from my credit card at a gas pump.” Visa cancelled the charges, ending the anxiety those cyber derelicts caused me. I’d still like to see them spend some time in the slammer and be subjected to noogies and wedgies. Hopefully they would turn over a new leaf.
Actually, credit card companies and my health insurance carrier quell my anxiety in a short time because they quickly provide phone agents to settle problems. (For what they charge, they should.) BTW, I now keep only two credit cards because I don’t want to monitor any more than two statements.
But It’s MY Credit Card
At one time if you were courteous and reasonable, paid your bills on time, were astute in business and personal dealings, problems would be minor. With common sense, you could rectify most issues within a minute or two with a phone conversation. In the electronics age, however, you can be a good boy or girl and still find yourself feeling the anxiety of a lost child.
I like to pay bills with hard-copy checks, so my card number has less exposure in the “Deep Web.” However, my child’s college cajoled my credit card number out of me. Towards the end of a semester, I called and requested the finance office remove it from their file. My child would be getting a grant that would pay the remainder of the bill.
A young man, a work/study student, told me, “I can’t do that. We must keep the card number on file.” I replied, “But it’s my card. You must do as a say.” What a nerve his kid has. I knew I’d have to make a bunch more phone calls to get my way. But if I don’t do something, they’ll charge my credit card and then when the grant comes through, I’ll have a hassle to get my refund. It was a good chunk of money. That afternoon a solution popped into my mind. I canceled my credit card and ordered a new one. (I like doing this periodically anyway to remove strap hangers. Once an anti-virus software company charged me for a program a second time three years after my purchase.) I didn’t hold a grudge against the kid; he’s but a cog in a system where excellent customer service is not a priority. I still think he should get one noogie.
Not so Easy E-ZPass
Canceling my credit card caused a new problem. Within a few days, I got an email from E-ZPass, notifying me that they were not able to “replenish my account.” On my computer, I could not get into that account to give them my new card number. (Yes, I had the correct tag and password number, and I tried five times.) When I called, the agency kept me on hold so long that I had to hang up and get on with my day. This was concerning because the next day I was headed to North Carolina on a toll route. How much would they penalize me with no balance remaining in my EZpass account? I hoped it wouldn’t be a ridiculous amount. I was not going to cancel my trip because of an E-ZPass snafu.
I avoided the George Washington Bridge toll by taking a western route and passed through but a couple of small toll areas. But after I got home, I found a charge of $40 added to my E-ZPass account. You figure it out. I tried to get into my not-so-easy account again, but the site refused me. I noticed on its website that they had brick and mortar offices. I’d have driven to the location forty-five minutes away to secure peace of mind, but it was closed due to the pandemic.
That lost-child-in-a-grocery-store feeling returned.
I finally thought, what the heck, I’ll try writing a charming hard copy letter to the E-ZPass brick and mortar and give them my new credit card number. A couple of weeks later, I received an email, “Account replenished.” What a relief! Still, can’t the executives figure a way to improve customer service? They’ve dismissed the toll booth workers. Could they direct the funds derived toward creating better communication with the public, their customers? I could holler at the sky, but I’m convinced I’d only receive my own echo back.
I told my friend Jeff, a free-lancer in the TV business about my E-ZPass snafu. “I’ve got one for you,” he retorted. One of his clients sends his paycheck to a man with the same first name and a last name with only one different letter. Jeff has spent hours on the phone with the company, but they fail to correct the error in “the system.” (Don’t you love when representatives say, “The System?) Each time the kind fellow receives Jeff’s check, he forwards it. Jeff has accepted that it’s the way it’s got to be.
Call me incompetent if you want, but I bet I’m not the only one to have found myself in this situation. In anticipation of a nice vacation in South America, I arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York City in good spirits an hour and a half early. After waiting a half hour in my airline’s baggage line, an agent walked by and barked that we all must show a completed electronic form on our phones approved by the immigration office of our destination country. “There’ll be no boarding the plane without it.”
My pleasant state of mind turned to panic. I felt that New Age of Anxiety feeling in my throat again. What? What is he talking about? I hurried to where frantic people were huddling around an airline agent who was helping them find and fill out the form on their phones. When my turn came, we filled out the form: name, address, passport number, etc. But after we did the “Captcha,” the form would not go through. We filled it out five more times, and it wouldn’t go past “Captcha.” Time to catch the flight was winding down. Finally he said, “Call a friend at home and have them do it on the computer.” I did so. My friend emailed me a copy, but guess what? It was too late to catch the plane. Captcha laughed in my face and said, “Gotcha.”
An airline agent told me later that they’d had similar complaints and that “the system” was more than likely “jammed.” Who’s to blame? Probably someone in the office of immigration in South America and a computer executive in another galaxy.
The same guy who barked that we needed to have that completed form happened to be at the ticket desk. What a joy. “When’s the next flight,” I asked. “Tomorrow,” he muttered. My only option, he explained with about as much compassion as a soldier serving gruel to a prisoner, was to book the next flight. “When’s that?” I asked. He peered into his screen. “Tomorrow at this time.” I looked around the agents’ long desk to see if there might be a kind soul who might make an effort to do better or at least show me some compassion. I made the mistake of muttering my private thought, “Maybe this was meant to be.” To my surprise, he replied, “I think so.” That guy deserves two noogies.
What would I do with twenty-six hours at Kennedy airport? “There are hotels,” an agent told me. “Take the airbus three stops, go downstairs and there’s a list. Press a button to call one.” When I arrived, there were about eight hotels listed. I made the calls. Three were booked and several went unanswered. A passerby told me, “One of the airlines has its own hotel in the airport.” The price: $350 dollars and tax.
I decided to wait it out in the airport. I had dinner at one cafeteria cafe, dessert at another, coffee at another. I dozed off in one chair and moved to others. I had chats with people from around the world. I commiserated with others were enduring miserable experiences. I overheard a guy telling an airline agent that he had flown from Hawaii to Turkey, where he booked a flight to Los Angeles. That flight was canceled. The airline had flown him Kennedy instead, and he was waiting for that flight to LA, which would take off in a few hours later. “This is the end of my traveling,” he said. His red eyes drooped like those of a Bassett Hound.
A Monster Out of Control
I sent a question out into the universe. When are they going to change this system? It occurred to me that there really is no “they.” There is no group of people can control this insanity. An observation written by John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath, came to mind. At the time of the “Dust Bowl” during the Great Depression, banks foreclosed on many homes. One farmer told the bank agent who came to his house he’d shoot him. The agent told the farmer that if he did so, he’d have to shoot the next guy and the next. The bank would still foreclose. Steinbeck offered this conclusion, “The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.” The culprit is actually an “it.”
I do my best to accept negative situations into positive ones and find the proverbial silver lining in the cloud. At the airport I passed some hours writing my next blog post on a yellow pad. Writers often know intuitively when we have written our best stuff, and I knew I had. The blog post, concerning my satirical proposal to eliminate the word “grab” from our vocabularies, has reaped more followers than any I’ve written.
Does that mean I should consider my 26-hour wait at Kennedy a positive experience? If you’re somewhere out there reading this, airline agent, don’t you dare respond.
Please check out my website: Sthaggerty.com
#electronics age #insanity #satire #humor #computers #memoir #crazy #amwriting