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Technology October 2017

Technology Hell – Only the Names Have Changed, Not the Empty Promises

By Lois Greene Stone

I was a pioneer in home computers having bought an IBM PC in 1982. With advanced technology, 64K, double diskette drives, monochrome display, DOS 1.1, I heard the “easy” promise from a salesperson who sold me an IBM word processor called Easy Writer 1.1 that was so easy she, herself, couldn't make a backup copy of the original program disk and had to take it to an engineer!

Are computers (like other tech things) simple, easy to operate? Have you had a glitch in a printer after the warranty ran out, and tried to get help? Anyone still running Vista, like me, and no Windows security support since that ceased in April 2017. Eventually, I’ll be forced to buy Windows 10 and will have a learning curve possibly without much help once the sale is over.

I was a pioneer in home computers having bought an IBM PC in 1982. With advanced technology, 64K, double diskette drives, monochrome display, DOS 1.1, I heard the “easy” promise from a salesperson who sold me an IBM word processor called Easy Writer 1.1 that was so easy she, herself, couldn't make a backup copy of the original program disk and had to take it to an engineer!

With IBM-DOS, Guide to Operations, Basic, and Easy Writer, I spent months trying to understand what engineers had written – neither a course nor support was available. IBM help line's technician had difficulty understanding the manual and what was necessary to insert an imbedded command into each word processing file I was trying to create.

By 1988, the ads promoted “support” since hard-drive hardware, a new concept, needed trained persons to both install it and educate the user else the computer might merely be decoration. My expansion slot could only make that primitive computer able to go up to 256K and most products were already 640K. Hard disks had taken over and a new 3-1/2-inch floppy screamed “future” so I granted early retirement to my almost obsolete machine and my 5-1/4-inch floppy which actually was so thin it did flop when picked up.

I didn't want to lose data on my 1982 diskettes, so I asked a dealer (as well as IBM) about IBM Easy Writer 1.1 being downloaded and transferred to another word processor since that software no longer existed for hard-drive use. A salesperson said he didn't know home computers existed then, he'd never heard of my program, and when I noted it was copy protected he uttered, with unprofessional disbelief, "Geez."

I asked to look at a manual of IBM Word Perfect; he gave me Apple which was a totally different operating system and not compatible.

"Easy" wasn't easy, "support" was merely lip service, "user friendly" was deceptive. It was suggested I convert my files into ASCII, the universal language, and maybe a salesperson would instruct the conversion from my floppies of 5-1/4" to the new 3-1/2". No one knew how, after I did the conversion, and it was finally suggested I retype everything after I made a copy on my 9-pin dot matrix printer; scanners were still in the future. Phone calls to the word processing maker, and others, had the similar “we don’t know how” answers.

I looked to replace my dot matrix printer; inkjet types were new but spewed too much ink at times, and since no email had been developed and my manuscripts had to be typed and be neat, I opted for a laser jet. I asked a manager about internal fonts for the laser jet that was sitting on a counter; he said he really knew nothing about that and couldn’t find a manual. I’d teach myself, I decided, as I’d done with computers. But this was the store he managed!

So now, 2017, with multimedia, Internet, email, bytes bigger than anyone in 1982 could have ever imagined might exist, audio, icons dotting color screens, software in hypertext markup language (Web standard), touch screens, voice commands, has the marketing and “help” situation changed?

My husband got a laptop, and his former printer was having problems. He needed a 4-in-1 printer and I told him to just pay a member of a store’s tech desk to install the machine in our home. That $150 price was more than what the printer sold for, but I knew that just to plug it in wasn’t going to actually work. The paid tech was to be sure the fax did its job, the scanner functioned, the printer copied from an original and also printed from the computer. He was to test the WIFI house connection as well.

My husband had little reason to scan an email until more than 30 days had passed, and when he tried it did not perform the task. He called the printer’s hotline and was told that wasn’t their problem and to call the store. He called the store and heard that since 30 days had passed –   a charge of $100 to answer the question would be incurred.

Essentially, we were responsible for not checking out everything that the tech was supposed to have done for our $150 installation. At our age, hauling in a cumbersome printer to the store, and still having a fee to look at the problem was not an option.

Well, “easy” has run a full circle after all these years, and “support” is a vague term, plus getting a contract for support has disclaimers in tiny print excluding more than it includes. These are merely marketing words and nothing more. Maybe, as Artificial Intelligence gets more sophisticated, rather than say “turn on the lights,” as I do now, I can say “connect the printer to my computer,” or “fix the problem with... and I’ll hear "okay.”

 

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide and her poetry and personal essays included in hard and softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including 12 different divisions of The Smithsonian.