[George's Pond]

The Siren Song of the Computer Age

It’s no secret that I have an uneasy relationship with technology – iPads, iPhones, Smart TVs, apps for this, apps for that. My BP spikes just thinking about it. But, hello, 21st century. You can’t avoid it.

Right now I’m banging away at a keyboard that is correcting (often mis-correcting) my many typos. It thinks it knows better than me, but it’s not always right.

Oh, I get it. Technology for the betterment of humanity is wonderful. An abundance of sophisticated medical gadgetry keeps us on the green side of the sod longer than ever before. And video games, Smart TVs and PVRs give us an array of entertainment choices to while away those leisure hours. So, while I don’t embrace technology, I appreciate its benefits and selectively take advantage of it. And, for me, “taking advantage” generally means research.

When I’m staring glassy-eyed at my desktop monitor, odds are that’s what I’m doing. Researching this, that or the other. The topic doesn’t matter. If there are questions, however frivolous, you can count on me to be searching for answers. I call it my enquiring mind. There are other opinions.

But there’s nothing frivolous about saving money or getting the best deal – which brings me to my most recent foray into the online marketplace to suss out the best battery-operated string trimmer to replace my old gas model.

I was reluctant to go the battery route because my only experience with battery-operated tools was when they were in their infancy, and it was abysmal. More recently, I’ve started listening to those who praise the huge advances that have been achieved. Then, when a neighbour convinced me to test drive his battery trimmer, I was convinced. That’s when the fun started. Which of the multitude of models out there would give me the biggest bang for my buck?

I hate to contemplate the number of hours I spent researching and reading reviews. But immersing oneself in reviews can be a Catch-22. What to believe? Fake reviews are a fact of life and, in spite of the best efforts of the likes of Amazon to weed them out, that kind of skullduggery has been well documented. Similarly, with my recently replaced roof. A new roof is a major investment, so again it was review after endless review of roofing companies and shingle brands. You can’t dismiss word-of-mouth either, so I picked the brains of two newly re-roofed neighbours. Both had good things to say about the companies they’d hired. But one guy’s quote was (sorry) through the roof. The other, in spite of that neighbour’s endorsement and some excellent reviews, also had a few that trashed him. My skepticism about online reviews notwithstanding, I just couldn’t overlook the negatives and eliminated that guy.

Where to go from there?

Likewise, when one of my doctors orders lab work, I’m always online ASAP to read my results. While I lack the training to interpret those results, I can at least, see which are flagged as low or high. Then it’s back online to The Mayo, Johns Hopkins or Cleveland Clinic in an attempt to give some context to those numbers.

I’m never sure how my GP takes it when I walk in with a diagnosis in hand. I don’t want to come across as a wise-ass, but I do want to be an informed participant in my health care and see no problem with that. I hope he feels the same way.

What did we do before home computers became such a presence in our lives? It had to be all word-of-mouth, and though word-of-mouth continues to be a valuable tool today, it’s technology that eats up the hours. It’s addictive. We constantly need more information and get drawn into a maelstrom of nuanced and frequently contradictory minutiae. And what do I do after spending hours wading through page after electronic page of relevant, semi-relevant, irrelevant and often indecipherable information?

Here’s what I do:

I buy the exact same trimmer my neighbour let me test drive before I began my research.

I get the same roofer I hired ten years earlier who did a good job at a reasonable price on my old house. I sit quietly and listen to my family doctor who knows more about the good and not so good ways in which my body is functioning than any website.

Then I follow his advice.

So why did I waste all those hours? Time wasted – at a stage of my life when time is not something to be frittered away.

This is not the behaviour of a very smart guy. But I know, the next time I’m faced with a decision like the ones I’ve just cited, I’ll do the same thing all over again.

It’s the siren song of the computer age.

Story by:
George Smith

Illustration by:
Charles Bongers

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