ELAYNE RIGGS: Still Life with Gadgets
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly what you would call an early adopter. I’ve tended to view many modern trappings more like modern traps. I readily admit to being one of those mean people who applauded when Apple lowered the price on its iPhone, a product I anticipate never needing nor owning, nodding at the observation that the $200 extra for the debut version (sold to people who actually queued up to buy an expensive status symbol readily available in plentiful quantity in stores and online) should be considered a sucker tax. I believe our affluent society is way too dependent on and obsessive over technological conveniences which will either soon achieve sentience at which point we’ll happily welcome our electronic overlords, or will utterly break down at the next super-solar flareup and leave us with the self-reliance level of children.
That said, I have way too many of these evil machines in my own home.
I remember a time when I didn’t. During my first marriage to somebody as wary of tech as I was, we had a VCR with a wired remote, and a TV with rabbit ears where you had to actually get up to change the channel. (We lived in The Land That Cable Forgot to Wire until about four years after everyone else in NYC was hooked up.) Our computer and printer were hand-me-downs that my office was going to throw away. Usenet and email were nice, but the behemoths were still things on which I worked more than played. Even our kitchen, which of course wasn’t ours but the landlord’s, didn’t have high-tech things like a dishwasher or garbage disposal unit or broiler the size of an oven, and still doesn’t. (I still get annoyed at TV chefs who talk about adjusting racks in the broiler; to me the broiler is found all the way at the bottom of the oven and is about two feet high with the door that opens downward and one temperature setting — turning the oven dial all the way up — and you’re lucky if it works at all without causing the pan to burst into flames. Which still beats Robin’s experience, as he tells me they don’t have broilers at all in England.)
But now, a lot of things are different. My current husband, who can reverse-engineer gadgets as easily as he takes apart and analyzes comic book panels, was born to be a tech geek. If he weren’t such a terrific artist as well, some sort of tech geekery would be how he made his living. He’s the kind of person who was able to FTP pages to DC and Marvel before those companies were even set up to receive them! When Robin emigrated to marry me, he had to leave behind tons of electronics, as British outlets are different and it just didn’t make financial sense to bring over lots of things that required American adapters and doubtless would be obsolete by the time he got settled in. Yes, Robin’s one of those early adopter types whose first reaction to new tech is "Oooh, shiny and pretty!"
Fortunately, his desire for the latest and greatest is nicely tempered by his practicality and intelligence. A freelancer’s life has taught him never to buy what he can’t afford, and experience has shown that the first version of just about any tech release usually has multiple bugs and it’s best to wait at least a few months until they’re worked out (by which time the price often drops as well). Still, he couldn’t believe how relatively backwards my living space was when he first moved in. I didn’t even have any little green lights that cut into the rooms’ darkness at night! There are now "night lights" like this all over our apartment. I have a Razr cell phone that’s so thin it keeps getting buried inside my pocketbook. A cell phone that, mind you, I only use for phone calls. I get the concept of text messaging (it’s like IM’ing only with more abbreviations) but I’ve never actually done it. I tried the Java games that came with my phone but don’t like them very much, and Popcap doesn’t make a version of Chuzzle for my specific phone yet. I resisted getting a cell phone for many years when I worked in Manhattan, reasoning that I didn’t need it at work, I didn’t need it at home, and in-between was pretty much a subway commute. Robin finally talked me into it, and I was very grateful to have one during the blackout of August 13, 2003 when the subways weren’t working. Now that I commute by car, I consider a cell phone connection even more of a necessity, particularly on long trips. Especially on long trips that ought to be short, like when my commute (usually a half hour) becomes mired in unexpected traffic jams or bad weather. It’s become a real lifeline, which I never thought it would be.
I also feel that way about our GPS. When Robin first bought a relatively inexpensive off-brand model for my birthday a few years back, it was an interesting toy but I was still a paper person, whether it meant a fold-out map or a printout of directions gotten online. The GPS was my fall-back of last resort, particularly as it had a tendency to freeze and crash. Even so, it got me through some tricky places with winding, one-way streets where maps wouldn’t have helped, so I conceded its theoretical usefulness. Then the crashes started happening faster, and at the same time the hands-free Bluetooth device that I used to talk to Robin during my commutes started giving me trouble as well. So instead of buying two new toys we opted for a 2-in-one Garmin GPS with built-in Bluetooth, which Robin found online (where he finds about 99% of the tech we acquire) for a real bargain price. It’s light-years ahead of the old GPS, it shows me street names and talks to me (you can set the voice as male or female in three different accents, so I have it on "British male," code-named Daniel) and now it’s my primary way of getting around, with paper maps (when I use them at all) as a mere supplement.
We’re a fairly paperless household indoors as well, if you don’t count art boards and comics, although personally I consider many of our electronics surplus to requirements, particularly all the audio and video players. Anybody want a slightly-used VCR (we have at least three) or 300-CD changer (at least two currently stored in the attic)? Our cable system’s DVR has completely replaced the way I used to use VHS tapes, although it hasn’t yet supplanted my vocabulary; I still refer to "taping" TV shows before correcting myself to say "recording." We have a universal remote programmed by Robin to work with everything from the cable to the DVD players to his iPod.
Yes, the iPod, and iTunes, and iMac (on the way as I type) and iyiyiyiyi! I’m still more or less a PC person, it’s what most businesses (and certainly their secretaries) use along with the MS Office Suite (Word and Excel and Outlook and so on), so as long as I have my current day job I cling to it as it ages and becomes ever more obsolete. But I’m prepared for its inevitable demise, as Robin’s hooked me on our Macbook laptop and I can more or less find my way around the operating system (besides, it has the PC emulator Parallels, so I can still use my Microsoft programs and play PC-only games). And the iPod is a lot handier than toting around CDs or audiotapes, particularly since we got a doohickey that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter and lets us play the iPod music library through the car’s radio. (Okay, the plug-in is a bit too long and interferes with my stick gear so we can’t use it when the car’s in park, but don’t bother us with minor details!)
I remember when I was in a one-computer family. Now we have four, including Robin’s old laptop from England, with two more coming shortly (the iMac to replace his old G4 and a Mac mini for his studio). Sometimes it comforts me to retreat to the kitchen or bathroom, then I look around and see plugged-in electric razors or microwaves or kettles, all with those little lights, on all the time, and I realize that no room in our house is completely dark at night. Well, maybe the library, because the bookcases block most of the outlets. And I look at those bookcases, and at the ones in the living room, and breathe a sigh of relief that the comics and books and LPs still outnumber the DVDs.
Oh sure, I get plenty of enjoyment out of the digital world. Heck, I hope I’m contributing to that enjoyment from this corner of that same world. But there’s always going to be that 20th century gal trapped in a 21st century world who keeps suspecting it’s all some kind of electrickery.
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix‘s news editor, and wants to sincerely thank Andrew Wheeler for the yeoman’s job he did during a time when a huge project at her day job prevented her from posting more often; let the record show that said project was completed at 10 AM on Monday, and at 2 PM that same day her boss informed her to stop work on it. Some days you can’t win.