I spent most of my morning navigating the net. You may think that I spent my time doing
in-depth research on a new topic for my next book, or reading the newspaper, or gloating
over the latest scandal. No, I was trying to look at a picture of the dryer recommended by
my salesman and get some airline tickets.
First the dryer; I googled the GE website and found an army of appliances—too many to look at. I tried to plug in the desired model number—no way. Instead they offered to list their merchandise from the cheapest to the most expensive, from expensive to cheapest, from purple to avocado, and so forth. After a prolonged search I found a customer service number and dialed it. A telephone operator announced that it was no longer in service. They suggested that I press #1 where I would get the correct number—free of charge + $500 worth of free groceries. I pressed #1. Someone with an Indian accent answered and offered me the groceries. I refused. “Why would you refuse $652 worth of free groceries?” the man asked. I answered that I would take the food if I did not have to acquire a new credit card. Huffed, he gave me another non-working telephone number. After another futile quarter of an hour I decided to do without the dryer.
Then I tackled the airline tickets. It is not enough to know that you want to go to Puerto Rico—you have to know the code of the airport. If you don’t, you cannot get a timetable. The code thing is a problem in New York, since it has three airports. After I passed that hurdle, my computer requested my frequent flyer number. Since this was the first time I was flying on that particular airline I did not have a number, and the site refused to accept this fact. I struggled on. Eventually I successfully called customer service, which was going to get me the tickets for an additional $15 per ticket. As a compromise, the nice clerk walked me through the on-line buying process, which of course took longer than if she had done it alone.
Frustrated by my morning’s activities I called my friend Olga. She was triumphant. It had only taken her two hours to book a ferry to Nantucket for next July. She found the home page of the ferry, but she could not sign in. She did not have her pin. Eventually she dug it up. Then her “profile” was lacking. But after she filled in the name of her husband, the make of her car, and the breed of her dog, and tried to proceed, she did not have the schedule and had to start all over again. Then she did not have the security code, then…
That same day AOL, which manages my e-mails, had its own troubles. My stash
of important saved e-mails vanished! AOL claims that it has them and will return them
when they are through doing “maintenance.” Let’s hope so, but 24 hours later they are
Neither Olga nor I are computer-illiterate. She created and curates a prize winning
blood group registry that is crucially important for blood transfusions and her registry
saves lives. I just completed a complex 465 page-long biography of the Rockefellers,
which went to the printer as it issued from my computer.
I shudder to think what the future reliance on computers will do to the efficiency of our country. More threatening still; we don’t need nuclear weapons. A few well designed computer viruses and worms will grind our way of living to a halt.