Brigitte Bowers: Technology is easier to grasp when in the driver's seat

Sometimes things do actually advance

September 8, 2013 

Brigitte Bowers

Many years ago, in the early '80s, I bought my first VCR and brought it home with the intention of having two male friends (both welders and so, one would assume, both good with mechanical things) program it.

After about an hour of watching them struggle with the  directions for setting the clock, I suggested that maybe they should let me give it a try. They would not. They were men, after all, and thus more genetically equipped for programming complicated electronics.

After a few more hours — and, really, I do not exaggerate the timeline here — they decided it would be a wise course of action to take a break and go buy a six-pack of beer. When they returned, about a half-hour later, I was sitting on the couch admiring the clock on the VCR.

"Do you guys know how long you've been gone?" I asked, pointing at the clock.

They said nothing and slunk away to drink their beers, but they did not fail to notice that a half-hour had been enough time for me to program the VCR, put away the directions and throw out the box.

It was my one triumph over technology, a moment of glory that will have to suffice for a lifetime.

Since that day, I have been befuddled by a wide range of devices and programs, from GPS systems to smart phones to Facebook.

In the case of Facebook, though, I admit that I have not tried very hard, since I cannot imagine why anyone would spend her leisure hours in front of a computer when she could be engaged in high-brow pursuits, like reading Voltaire in French or, perhaps, watching a special, hourlong episode of "Fashion Police."

So you can imagine my delight when my husband and I purchased a car that came with Bluetooth and found that it was easy — even ridiculously simple — to use. The car salesman showed me how to interface my phone and answer calls.

"Really?" I said. "That's all?" I had expected a drawn-out procedure of punching in various numbers and codes and passwords, and having to repeat the process when it didn't work the first time, and so on.

"That's it," he said.

So I tried calling my husband and was enraptured anew when he answered.

"This is pretty cool," I said, and he agreed, though I could not be sure if I was hearing his voice over the phone or in person, as he was standing only a few feet away.

But most wonderful of all, the thing about Bluetooth that still puts my heart aflutter is that I can make calls simply by saying out loud "dial," and end them with an imperious "cancel," a little like Queen Elizabeth I ordering the beheading of a troublesome cousin.

No more fumbling


I am the mistress of my Bluetooth, I said to myself. For an hour or so after buying the car, I called everyone I knew.

"Guess what?" I said whenever someone who hadn't checked their caller ID answered their phone. "I'm calling you while driving. And I won't have to hang up suddenly when I see a cop."

I am using Bluetooth frequently. No more fumbling around in my purse, one hand on the wheel, until I finally retrieve the phone, just in time for the caller to disconnect.

There is only one small problem with my new device. My car is also a convertible, and I am using up its convertibleness while the weather is still good, before the fog drifts in for the winter. Bluetooth doesn't adjust very well to wind noise.

"Dial," I tell the Bluetooth gal — whose voice reminds me of an IRS accountant — as I cruise along Santa Fe at 55.

"Continue," she answers.

"358-5555," I say in my best regal voice.

"#222-6745," Bluetooth says. "Continue."

"Cancel," I shout.

"Continue," Bluetooth says.

"Cancel," I yell.

"Dialing number," Blue tooth answers, exactly like an IRS accountant refusing to listen to reason.

And so, just as I should have been doing all of these years, I am forced to pull over to make my call.

Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.

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