Gadgets, widgets and wonders

Gadgets, widgets and wonders

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Since gadget is defined as ”a small mechanical device or tool,” I suppose I can’t count televisions, washing machines, computers, disc players, phones, car heaters and sprinkler systems as gadgets. But large or small, mechanical devices are ruining my daily peace of mind and self-concept. I realize that my friends and I learned things many years ago and have trouble adjusting, but are these changes really necessary?

No longer do we have an off/on switch for most devices. No, we have to push four buttons to turn on the TV. The pushing must be done in order and you must never touch the other buttons ranging from A to D, Demand to My DVR, and exit to last, or you will not be able to see Jeopardy for a month. The buttons should have been clear about their function so that I realized that they had nothing to do with getting the machine turned on.

There are three circles of buttons in my almost new car that turn on the heat or air conditioning. I turned on the heat by accident and it blew on me for several days after the temperature outside was over 70. I lived with it by opening the sun roof which I discovered, also by accident, and couldn’t close; fortunately I have a garage for rainy days.

The real challenge was turning on the sprinker system. My daughter says it is simple, but she wasn’t here to read the directions. First it says to set the time of day and then the date, but one hesitates because it may be tomorrow before you’ve figured out how to set the time and date, or when you want it to sprinkle and how long you want it to run. The directions say nothing at all about how you dig up the sprinkler heads that the dog has buried, nor how you direct the outlets to spray the lawn rather than the sidewalk.

As for computers, you have to adopt the neighbor’s four-year-old to figure out how to pay your bills online, increase the type size on your manuscript, make columns, get rid of italics that appeared out of nowhere, and stop getting messages from strangers on Facebook. I was the one who set up computer training workshops for employees years ago, but never had to take the training to keep my job. That took an academic humanist with a knowledge of fatal flaws, creativity and ambition.

I do have devices I appreciate such as my shredder. There’s one switch which moves forward to grind up paper and backwards to regurgitate it. I don’t know why one would want to send the strips of paper back up again, but it is nice to have two choices even when only one makes sense.

I also appreciate my BOSE Wave radio/CD player. I manage to play music all the time, and I usually find public radio. The BOSE also has an alarm clock, but I have no need for it, so I haven’t kept myself awake worrying about how that works. It dials to a station at 5 a.m. without fail.

My washing machine and dryer are fairly simple: I choose whites or colored, heavy or light, and leave it alone. It certainly beats the old washboard and wringer, but then, I didn’t get the fancy model that does other things that have something to do with getting clothes clean or bright or something.

Maybe it’s just me and not the complicated electronics. I recall that after sewing three little pinafore dresses for a little girl (after having three sons), I gave up sewing because I couldn’t understand the directions that seemed to tell me to put the woof to the weave and the back to the front and sew everything inside out.

I can usually put bookshelves together since I have had quite a bit of experience and don’t believe books should be piled horizontally on the floor. There are usually directions that say, “Attach A to B and B to C.”

Even here, however, one has to be recognize that there is an inside and outside and an upside and a downside to the construction, but this terminology is something I’ve seen before in literature.

It makes a difference whether we view things we’re supposed to be able to operate as gadgets or devices. I prefer “devices” because of the multiple meanings. A device, says the illustrated Oxford Dictionary (the best) is “a thing made for a particular purpose.”

That’s enlightening, but isn’t it important to understand the purpose? A secondary definition says a device is “ an explosive contrivance.” I certainly react that way. A less-used meaning is “a device is a plan, scheme or trick.” That’s what I’ve said all along.

Even when we read the directions as a last resort, a person is left to their own devices. We can call a help line and try to understand the person with great expertise in Farsi or some other language. Admittedly, many of us who need help can’t hear directions in our own language and so we are left to our own devices.

Personally, I had this flash of insight: why not borrow a smart phone? It does everything from take pictures, word processing, browse the internet and send e-mails. The trouble is, someone has to tell it what to do. Maybe robots … but they are probably not gadgets or devices, but wonders.