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19th Century Man in the 21st Century

February 17, 2019

I came close to the edge this past week. I’m not that far from it now. Unsurprisingly for anyone who knows me, the tormenting cause of my near nervous breakdown is a machine. I’m not sure what happened in the womb, but ever since then I’ve been in a losing battle with technology.

Maybe it’s a left-right brain thing. Whichever controls mechanical things is missing from mine. Reminds me of sitting in Mr. Roller’s office at Nordhoff High School after the senior class had taken an aptitude test. Mr. Roller wasn’t a real counselor, but that was his add-on role the District gave him, in addition to the social studies classes he taught. I guess he was as good – or as bad – as any other teacher they might have landed on for the assignment.

“Michael,” he said, solemnly as he pretended to rifle through the pages of my test there on the desk in front of him, “I’m afraid nobody has ever scored lower than you in your aptitude for technology, you know, mechanical things.” I wasn’t surprised. “Your results suggest that you should be an animal psychologist, or something,” he added, by way of counseling.

He may have gotten that last bit backwards, but he was sort of right. I’m a something in need of an animal psychologist!

This has only gotten worse, much worse, in the age of the internet. What’s a megabyte? What’s a terabyte? Is that Latin? For that matter, what’s a byte? Okay, I’ll admit that I mostly cheated my way through the two years I spent in Mr. Neill’s Latin class in high school – it’s so much easier to do when no one expects you to speak the language – but you’d think something would stick. I don’t remember any references to bytes, though I do remember multiple examples of technology biting my ass!

Where we start our stories is always somewhat arbitrary – who can say where things begin – but I’m going to start this one at the doorstep of Dropbox, an app…

No, wait. That’s wrong. That’s one of the problems I’m talking about: having to learn this cyber-relevant vocabulary of today’s technology! And by learn, I mean remember. I can only remember enough to know that “app” is the wrong word, but not what the right word is.

Whatever you call it, Dropbox is supposed to let you share large files online with others, files too large to send as emails. Although my book, Soul of the Matter is not yet published (I’m looking for an agent), I was able to record it as an audio book, with the help of a GoFundMe Campaign. It’s that file I was trying to send through Dropbox to friends. I tried for weeks, all to no avail.

Because the audio file is too big, the free version of Dropbox would not allow me to upload it. In response to my many emailed cries for help, an ever-cheerful “support staff” person replied by email (“Hi, I’m Chris…”) and told me to upgrade to the 1-Terabyte capacity option, just $99 a year. It was only after they got my money that I learned that the upgrade would not do the trick. While it’s true that 1 terabyte is larger than my multi-megabyte audio book, Dropbox also has a capacity limit on individual files! In other words, it made no difference whether I had upgraded or not, that individual file is too large. What that $99 did give me, however, was access to a live tech support person whom I hoped could solve my problem. But after hours, days and weeks of back and forth, the problem remained unresolved. Dropbox got my $99, and I got a kick in the pants, as my father used to say.

My relationship with technology always drags me down. I’m telling you, machines see me coming, share a conspiratorial mechanical chuckle, and refuse to work as promised. They are not alone, however, in bringing me down. There are other things going on in the country currently that contribute to this feeling that I’m a man out of his time, starting with the President of the United States who, not for the first time, makes me ashamed of being an American. “At long last sir, have you left no sense of decency?”

But back to a smaller reality. Even as I write – and thank god for writing – I am attempting again to put this big audio file somewhere on my computer that makes it available to others, an effort which has failed a dozen times already, and will, I fear, fail again this time.

This is only the latest in a lifetime of adversarial experiences with machines of all types from ATMs to parking meters. Once, in Kyoto, Japan, I paid my yen for the subway gate to open, which it did, letting me into the space between the entrance and the exit. It closed behind me, but the gate in front of me did not open. I was trapped between two gates. I’m telling you, the damn thing saw me coming, and…

But, indomitable spirits being what they are, I swear I will never be hungry again. Er… no, I mean, assuming I don’t pull out all of my abundant white hair first, I swear I shall master the machine! I shall find a way to get that audio book into the world’s ears, begging for it as they all are. Like Trump’s wall, one way or the other, it will get built!


More than two months have passed since I began writing this lament, two months of failure after failure; two months of escalating curses at Dropbox; two months of hair-pulling frustration. Finally, though, with the help of multiple gurus – including my friend Diane Reed who’s as responsible for it as any of those professional helpers, and no thanks to Dropbox – success! As satisfying as that success is, I learned an even more important lesson. I now know how to overcome all the obstacles that will inevitably stand in my way whenever I’m face-to-face with technology: I’ll ask someone else to do it!

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1 Comment

james lohman
james lohman
May 07, 2019

Like Groucho says, "Why -- a 12-year old child could understand this.  (Run out and find me a 12-year old child.)"

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