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My ignorance of technology knows no bounds. I am able to use it and to pluck information and entertainment from it — at least, a chunk of the electronic marvels available to me — but don’t ask me to explain it.

Whenever something goes wrong, I’m in trouble. That’s when I have flashbacks to a classic Paul Reiser comedy routine. He pictures himself the Earthling chosen for abduction by creatures from another planet, creatures who’ve managed to reach Earth through means unknown to us, but creatures who’ve discovered that our means are unknown to them. Even the concept of electricity is foreign to them, and so they abduct Earthlings and interrogate them.

This frightens Reiser because he has no answers:

“Where does this electricity come from?” the aliens ask, and Reiser’s reply is something like this:

“Uhh, from small slots in the wall, called outlets, I think."

“Explain the cellphone.”

“You must be kidding.”

REISER'S FEAR is my fear. Should I be whisked aboard an alien ship, I might be asked, “Can you explain Bluetooth?”

And my answer would be, “I think he was a Dick Tracy villain.”

Or, “What is wi-fi?”

“I haven’t a clue,” I’d reply, “but I do know that without it my wife and I are cut off from the outside world."

So it was recently when our cable-telephone-internet provider, our Bundling Buddies, we call them, experienced an equipment failure. Our cable and telephone service were unaffected, but my wife and I could not go online or stream anything to our computers or TVs via Roku, through which we watch most of our programs and movies ... on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Acorn.

MIND YOU, some words in the preceding paragraph do not sit comfortably on my tongue. Perhaps they never will. Too me, “stream” is body of water, more like a creek or brook than a river. Roku might be Japanese for “Ah, so” or the name of a monster more terrifying than Godzilla.

It occurred to me that day that I don’t even know what “wi-fi” means, though I’d guess it was a feeble play on “hi-fi,” an audio term meaning “high fidelity.” Even days later when I looked up “wi-fi,” I wasn’t sure what it meant, though obviously the “wi” stands for wireless.

Okay, so I’ve never been abducted by aliens . . . but I have talked to strange creatures. They identify themselves as “Tech Support.” Many of them speak with Indian accents, though, when asked, they will not acknowledge where they are located. I have a veddy, veddy, veddy difficult time understanding them, though a year or so ago one young gentleman managed to penetrate my brain with solutions to problems I was having with new software. And the woman who transferred my call to this man also was very helpful and I had no trouble comprehending what she told me.

However, my recent wi-fi experience was a reminder of a frustrating problem that exists even when you and the tech support person appear to be speaking the same language, pronouncing each word the same way. I’ve experienced this problem since my very first computer and thought that by 2014 it would have been solved.

WHEN IT comes to technological problems, what separates us are not differences in religion, politics or allegiances to rival sports teams. It’s the difference between people who’ve worked only on PCs (and the dreaded Windows family of operating systems) and those of us who remain fiercely loyal to Macs. (Years ago I asked a few sales people why their personal preference was Windows and they all told me the same thing: a better choice of video games.)

It’s shameful that so many tech support people admit they don’t know diddly about the Mac. And it’s infuriating that some software instructions are oblivious to the differences.

When I finally got through to a real Bundling Buddy, he was polite, friendly and trying hard to be helpful as he led me through steps I could take to restore our wi-fi network. However, our conversation was made difficult by differences he was seeing on his computer screen and what I was seeing on mine.

This isn’t strictly a Windows vs. Mac problems. My wife and I both have iMacs. Her operating system is different from mine; the software may bear the same name, but most of the versions are different. What she sees on her screen is not always what I see on mine when we're using what we thought was the same application.

I'M NOT ONE to look for conspiracies, but I believe thousands of them are at work in the computer industry. Otherwise I wouldn’t be getting at least three messages every month that various software updates are available. If something works, don’t tinker with it. And when you release a new version, make sure it is compatible in every way with the one it is replacing.

It would be such a pleasant surprise five or six years from now, or whenever I buy my next iMac, to find that every file I created on software programs through whatever they call my operating system — Zebra, Octopus, Hyena, some animal, certainly — could easily be downloaded on the 2019 version (which, following the switch to Maverick, may be called Hondo, Palladin or Ponderosa . . . though I think my computer has been bugging me lately to install something called Yosemite.)

I used to think I could ward off exasperation by making my purchases at an Apple store, but sales reps I’ve encountered at the two Apple stores I have visited seem to speak Klingon. They may know a lot about the products they sell, but, clearly, they’ve never learned how to communicate with Earthlings. And they have no understanding of what many of us really want in our personal computers.

ANYWAY, back to my wi-fi problem. The young man who tried to help me admitted he knew nothing about Macs and that he actually worked in his company’s cable division. He suggested I make an appointment for a tech support person to visit my house. And I agreed.

But after we hung up, I got antsy. Thinking I didn’t have anything to lose, I opened my browser (Safari) and found an option the young man hadn’t mentioned. I took a chance and clicked on it, providing information that was requested. My iMac didn’t explode, so I closed the window and checked on my wi-fi connection.

I had fixed my problem, but, of course, I didn’t know how.

Aliens, please take note.

 
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