A Pre-recorded Life

The author came. He saw the technology. And to his amazement, he conquered it. That’s not to say he’s joining the tech revolution just yet.

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.

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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.

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

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