Friday, December 28, 2018

COLUMN: GPS


I love technology.

If I had a nickel for every column I've started with those words, I'm pretty sure I'd have at least thirty-five cents by now.

But it's true. Some people are thrilled by antiques and flea markets and crusty old items from yesteryear. Not me. I don't marvel when I see a relic like a butter churn. We as a species have evolved beyond churning our own butter. I await a future where butter is brought to me at the push of a button from either a robot maid or a highly advanced system of pneumatic tubes.

I vowed long ago that I would forever stay at the top of my technological game. I wonder if my parents ever said the same thing? My dad is amazing. He built the house I grew up in from the ground up. He designed the blueprints, captained the construction team, and saw the project through to completion. He cannot, however, figure out how to turn on a television, play a DVD, or find the power button on a computer. My mom, on the other hand, loves computers. She has a home PC that rivals mine in processing and memory, complete with a multi-speaker surround sound system. She uses it to check the weather and play mah-jong. I've explained iTunes to her at least two dozen times. She "doesn't get" Facebook.

But against both desire and determination, I think I'm starting to reach that stage myself. Every time some new piece of tech comes along that's supposed to make my life easier, I find myself weighing the benefits of an easy life against the amount of time and patience it takes to learn and understand it. I steadfastly believe that I am neither fuddy nor duddy, but I'm starting to get fed up with keeping up with technology.

Case in point: You guys know I DJ on the side, right? Well, one of the lines on my high-tech DJ controller is acting up right now. The tech support section of their website suggests that I update the firmware, which seems like sound advice. I just need to learn what "firmware" is and how one goes about updating it. They also recommend that I install the newest version of my DJ software. No problemo, I thought, until I logged on to discover that the software I use is so old they don't even MAKE it anymore. In the three years since I bought my "top of the line" gear, everything's become outmoded and outdated.

At some point, we should get to put a cap on tech evolution and take a breather. Do we really need 5G televisions? I mean, 4G's are plenty enough G's as far as I'm concerned. Technology is cool, but sometimes it's more trouble than it's worth.

Last week, one of my favorite bands was playing the Windy City. I was meeting up with old college friends at the show, but I had to face a long solo roadtrip to a club and neighborhood I'd never been to. The Old Shane would have pulled out his trusty map and familiarized himself with the route beforehand. But not NEW Shane. Not technologically adept Shane.

Instead I did what anyone under 30 does now: I punched the address into my smartphone and put complete blind faith into an annoying little robot voice who tells you where to turn. At first, this made for a relaxing and confident drive up without a care in the world. In fact, Google's guidance system comes with real-time traffic avoidance, which was neat. It told me right out the gate that I-88 had traffic backups and recommended I take I-80 to I-55 instead. Cool, right?

Well, until I got to Joliet, when it told me that I-55 had backups and I should take I-57 instead. Well, okay. And then I got on I-57 and it told me there were immediate backups and I should take the next exit -- which was four lanes over at rush hour. I simply had to risk life, limb, bumpers, and the death glares of a half dozen drivers as I merged my way over to Google's handy shortcut.

A shortcut that involved driving for twenty minutes through, shall we say, some of the more murder-y parts of southern Chicago. I wasn't exactly positive that I'd be murdered at any second, but it was certainly a bit more murderish of an area than I ever cared to be in.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if I had my choice of waiting in traffic for a few extra minutes versus finding myself at stop lights where people literally come banging on your windows yelling "GIMME SOME MONEY," I now know for SURE which one I'd pick. But Google didn't care that it just sent me on a scenic tour of burned-out warehouses from the nightmares of Snake Plissken. Google only cared that I shaved seven minutes off my commute.

And that's the problem with new technology. Sometimes the cost outweighs the benefits. Is an easier life worth the effort? Should I be satisfied with my current non-smart refrigerator or should I upgrade to one pre-installed with Twitter and Facebook? (Which seriously exist, apparently for those of us who don't want to access leftovers without losing immediate access to the public thoughts of Kanye West.) For now, I'm still trying to stay as high-tech as possible, within reason. I don't have any offspring to explain the new Facebook to me in twenty years, so I need to have game. But next time I go to Chicago, I'm using a paper map like some butter-churning fuddy-duddy.

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