A Tale of Two Techies

September 9th, 2019 By Jenine Stanley

A married couple sitting on a couch, watching the news on TV. The man has his arm draped over the woman’s shoulders.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. We’d just set up a new television we got on an Amazon Prime Day deal. House Stanley was happy because this television had accessible menus and all sorts of bells and whistles. It turns out this was only a microcosm of our tech struggle.

My husband Kent and I are both legally blind. Kent has some usable vision, and I am totally blind. We both would label ourselves as geeks, nerds, techies, whatever you want to call us this week. We like technology, gadgets, and the processes that make them work. I’ve been into tech since the mid-1980s, which now sounds like a really long time. Kent has been at it even longer, since the mid-1960s. He builds (and rebuilds) all of our PCs, has a ham radio setup in the basement man cave, and has worked on some of the largest mainframe computers for AT&T.

Author's desk, with 3 rows of open shelving above it and 4 rows of shelving to the right. The desk and all surrounding shelves have many products filling them. From left to right the items on the desk include a mic stand and mixer, Macbook Pro and Apple keyboard, Airpods case, Dell laptop with Aftershokz headphones on top, iMac with Apple keyboard, desk phone, iPhone.

Author’s desk, with 3 rows of open shelving above it and 4 rows of shelving to the right. The desk and all surrounding shelves have many products filling them. From left to right the items on the desk include a mic stand and mixer, Macbook Pro and Apple keyboard, Airpods case, Dell laptop with Aftershokz headphones on top, iMac with Apple keyboard, desk phone, iPhone.

Why then is this new TV bringing us to a point of no return, or possible return, if he can’t figure it out?

It turns out that we approach technology differently. I am an early adopter and was taught by my first computer instructor to explore and test. Look at the program or machine’s menus, find out what it can do. If there’s new tech out there, at least get a look at it to see if it’s worth the investment.

Kent has become someone for whom technology must be a need, not a want or curiosity. He was one of the original white hat hackers at AT&T and got paid to break things, including government security systems. He views technology as something that works for humans, not something to entertain humans. Slick graphics, voice control, constant connectivity, these are all foreign and annoying constructs to him.

“Hold my phone” in our house is synonymous with “Hold my beer.”

“Hold my phone” in our house is synonymous with “Hold my beer.” I usually say it when doing some manual task during which my precious iPhone could fall out of my pocket or be submerged.

This is often followed by the exclamation “Eeeewww, I touched an iPhone!” From Kent. He hands it back as if it’s a giant stink bug.

Kent’s one concession to technology is the Amazon Alexa device. He’s come to love her for setting cooking timers and listening to far flung internet radio. This is why the new television is so vexing to him.

It opens with a home screen, so it’s a computer. “When a guy comes in from working in the yard all day, he just wants to turn on the TV and watch something mindless, like the news.” Says Kent. “He does not want to have to move through menus and make complex decisions.”

Talking to the TV is one of those options that works if you remember the exact phrasing used to get it to do what you want. If however, you deal with the adult version of ADHD in which your brain is already 10 thoughts ahead of whatever you wanted to watch, things get amusing. Well, amusing for me as the observer.

Then there’s me, who charges in, puts things together, presses buttons, flips through menus and clicks on things, sometimes before fully understanding what they are about to do. Oops.

Kent views technology, and especially the smartphone, as one more addictive substance in our world. He does concede that my use to supplement my vision loss is practical and “OK”. For him though, he’s found no such uses. Given his visual acuity, he still likes to figure things out on his own using magnification. I point out that it takes sometimes three times as long to accomplish something, but hey, he’s retired. He’s got plenty of time, right?

What does work for House Stanley in the way we interact with technology is when we go basic or manual. We’ve set up a lot of non-tech things in our house and done a lot of those homeowner chores together. Someday I will write about cleaning gutters. Now there’s a marital bonding activity.

A 1936 Philco 6-36. It still works, AM radio only.

A 1936 Philco 6-36. It still works, AM radio only.

I’m certain we will conquer the TV, which is named Vast Wasteland. Kent will come to it on his own terms, which will mean finding the manual online, reading and rereading it and going to bulletin boards to discuss how frustrating it is for the engineers and others of that ilk. Then he’ll come upstairs from the Man Cave and show me some new trick he’s found that I did not know about.

I will be sitting there tooling about the menu system, seeing just how many channels we can indeed get, then getting distracted by the Cats 24/7 channel. And so it goes.

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