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A Pre-recorded Life

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I arrived home, accessed my DVR recordings from earlier that evening, then settled in for a little tube before retiring.

As drama, that’s not much of an opener, but watching a program I recorded all by myself represents more than one small step for a man. I never did learn how to program any of the many VCRs I owned. All I have to show for my efforts is a collection of two-hour tapes of blue screens.

The advent of the DVR has allowed me to scale a digital Everest by skating past yet another of those technical activities that have so often left me feeling more out of place than a glacier in this globally warming world.

My first collision with technology was the slide rule. I needed one for high school physics. Instead, I sidled up to one Herman Christian Hasenkampf III, who correctly interposed himself between my blank stares, drool and logarithms to help me crawl to a C. (I somehow managed a B on my own in trigonometry, though I never understood what it was. I think it’s about measuring triangles. Or something you get when you eat poorly cooked pork.)

Having been born in the provincial United States, I bypassed learning the metric system. I was working in the corporate world when an executive remarked, “If you’re under 40, you will have a personal computer on your desk.” I was 36 then, so I believed my Luddite goose was finally cooked. I got through by using the PC as a glorified adding machine and typewriter, which is a little like using an iPod as a paperweight.

Now I find myself in a job that requires me to trouble shoot technical problems with cable service. Much to my surprise, I’ve done better than I (or my kids, who’ve grown up watching me assemble toys on Christmas) would have believed possible. Restoring a customer’s cable service, programming a remote to work their TVs and cable boxes—even helping them connect their equipment without starting an electrical fire—gives me a sense of belonging to the 21st century that I haven’t felt since I signed up for direct deposit.

Mind you, I know enough not to push the envelope too far. I still respect the repair limitations defined by duct tape and WD-40. And I have no plans to acquire an iPod or a Kindle. I don’t mind having to tear the house apart looking for that Creedence CD. And as far as I’m concerned, if you’re not reading a book with a semi-detached spine, coffee-stained pages and overdue notices between the pages, it’s just not reading.

Right now, I’m reading a dog-eared copy of Barbara W. Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century.” I would have felt quite at home then—at least until later, when trying to figure out how to work Gutenberg’s newfangled invention.

Reid Champagne’s memoir will be titled “Wait 30 Seconds, Then Plug It Back In.”

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