Digital technology has not been the panacea I believed it would be. Today I am wondering why I embraced these ideologies to the degree I did. Why did I spend so much energy, time, and money trying to make this stuff work? In the end, I have not been all that successful. In fact, I have had to compromise a lot including wasting money.

This calamity in my life really began in February of 1981 when I enthusiastically delved into the world of the home computer. This started with the purchase of my first home-based business system costing me $10,000 in 1980s dollars. Since then, I’ve been plagued by these overrated atrocities of human kind. I relied on this stuff to make life easier. But with the exception of a few functions, these digital devices really have not lived up to their expectations much less paid for themselves. Instead, all this stuff has caused me to spend most of my retirement and has given me half my gray hairs.

To explain the computer thing, look at the average computer. To explain "most of my retirement," if I would have taken the money I spent over the years on these things including my first computer and all the subsequent computers, peripherals & devises and, instead, put all this in the stock market, I could have and would have retired very well off…ten years ago. As for my gray hairs, it was the pain and suffering I went through trying to get these things to work for me.

The idea of getting this modern technology to do what I believed it could do is laughable. I am sitting in a house full of about 3 to $4,000 worth of hardware & software and it really does very little for me. This 18 to $20,000 of feel-good stuff includes from 1981 through to the current date investment. This includes printers, monitors, TVs, scanners, PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, eReaders, MP3 devices, … If I would have just bought dedicated devices, I would have saved a bunch of money, pain, and time.

Where the hell has it really gotten me? Am I retired, happy, and at peace with myself? No way! I could have done it all with minimal basic technology. Instead, I got caught up in all of the hype.

It felt good to go onto Newegg or Amazon and order an electronic-digital device. Then when it arrived, there was disappointment upon finding it didn’t perform as described by all of the pundits. It took me hours of searching, reading, and cajoling and then I reluctantly hit the “Add to Cart” button. Then when it arrives, I face a 50 to 60% chance it won’t work out of the box.

Let’s take for example the latest fiasco, the straw that broke the camel’s back, what caused today’s spleen vent. I’m talking about the much outdated Parrot EasyDrive hands free Bluetooth Speakerphone Car Kit cell phone adapter. I broke the one that worked for over two years. Then I tried to find another one. I finally found a used one on eBay for $25. But, it didn’t work. I can’t get it to link up with my phone, the PC, etc. etc. The PC can’t find drivers, it can’t link up with the cell phone, it can’t f__g do anything. The Parrot just keeps asking in a British woman’s voice to please pair up device.

All would have been OK if I could have found a new replacement. But, the company no longer makes this device. The A Hs of the world have to make these simple things so complicated. They require a high amount of attention. All I wanted was to be able to answer the phone in the car while driving. That’s it! But, all they make now are special battery powered devices that require drivers to charge the receiving device. Also, you have to physically turn it on when entering the car…that’s if you didn’t forget to turn it off when you got out the last time. The Parrot was plugged into the cigarette lighter and it just sat there. Then when I turned on the ignition, it connected to the phone. When I left the car, it disconnected. How nice! How simple! But nowhere, no more is there such a device. Why?! Because of the f__g Techno-Nerd Geeks!!!

I’m sorry. I realize it is much less dignified for me to use colorful metaphors as I have above. I know, using those expletives is not the intellectual thing to do. But, I was very upset to take out of its packaging the device…the last one on the planet, only to find that it didn’t work. Par for the course?

Another in a series of examples: Last night, my saintly wife asked me to listen to some music she had found on the internet. After she was through playing this hokey sounding stuff, I set about to play from my PC some of my music as an example of what I believe is good music. But, the technology reared up, growled, and bit me hard. The music player software couldn't find the disc drive the music was stored on. It kept saying that some disc was missing and got hung up, freezing my PC. Needless to say, I never got to play for her these examples. Instead, I spent the whole evening correcting the problems.

It appears that today’s technology requires the attendant be ever present and vigilant in using it. Gone are the days of automated set-and-forget. Now it not only tries to be all things, but it requires the user to follow a strict set of vague guidelines…that in the end they have to Google to find out how to really use it. For you see, this technology is not forgiving.

Unlike analog electronics which will work even if things are slightly out of tune, digital interfaces need to be exact or be bloated with checks and reassessments to hopefully accommodate that which is a little different. Also, unlike analog with all of its exposed parts, digital is so proprietarily hidden. We hope these devices can see and communicate with each other. With analog, a volt meter and a soldering iron is all that was needed. Well, maybe several other pieces of test equipment. But you could fix it. However, the idea of fixing a digital device is… People just throw them away when they stop working…or never worked in the first place. Oh yes, I forgot. Most expensive components become quickly out-dated or obsolete.

OK, I’m not saying that I don’t benefit by this stuff. I do. After all, I am writing this with digital technology. You-know, before word processing, I was illiterate. Then with the advent of the spell checker, I literally found a literary life. In 1986, those pent up words…finally I could let them out of their cage. They spewed forth from my fingertips.

Yes, this and cruising the web, not to mention watching TV is great. I doubt I could get along as well as I have without these things. It’s just that I am so frustrated I cannot get a lot of this stuff to work much less work together.

The TV room (home theater) project took me well over $6,000 and two years to finally come up with something that works. But even this XP thing is threatening to eventually stop working. The newest technology is self-opposed to working the way I now have it working. It wants to not be easy to work with. It’s all the imposed digital copy protection stuff and the closed proprietary software.

An example: Several days ago I found what is touted as being a free Blu Ray player software. DAPlayer - New Blue Ray Multimedia Player Free! Well, I tried it and…Bud, read the fine print. You first have to rip, or as they call it, backup the Blu-Ray…which takes a better part of an hour. DVDs, no problem; anything can play those.

You-know, all this reminds me of a pilot with all those switches in the cockpit.

We’re going to watch TV:

  • Switch on PC power.
  • Switch on monitor.
  • Switch on Blu-Ray player.
  • Switch TV input to Blu-Ray.
  • Switch Audio amplifier input to Blu-Ray player.
  • Switch on infrared receiver.
  • Switch output of IR to Blu-Ray player.
  • Get Blu-Ray Disc to watch.
  • Open Blu-Ray player to accept disc.
  • Close disc drawer.
  • Set up disk.
  • Hit play.
  • What! …It’s not working!
  • Oh s__t! I forgot to connect to the Internet! Gotta restart!

Geeks love this…

Then there is ME!

Turn on PC. It turns on everything.

Put a disc in the BD drive. From the remote console next to me, watch it start the player software. The movie starts playing on the main screen and the sound comes forth.

Impractical, right?!

Everyone I tell about this system to is…totally unimpressed. Why?!

I think it’s all hype, all the rage. People want these gadgets the way they are. They want to switch each thing on. It makes them feel like they are technically savvy. Me on the other hand I am really not technically enthusiastic. I want everything to be automatic. I know, how non-geek of me. Even the heating and cooling system here never has to be touched. It automatically switches from heat to cool and vice-versa. It’s supposed to do that! Right!

Oh well… What to do from here.

People are enamored with technology. They are willing to pay exorbitant costs to have this stuff that…in the end does not really benefit them as much as they might think. The final example: There is this craze to have an iPhone. The cost to most Americans is a $150.00 for the phone, activation fees and a $79.00 a month contract for two years. Do the math. Is it worth it to have a device that is limited to just feel good to hold this…millstone? In the end with all of the charges and overages, it costs an average of over $1,000 a year to have one of these things. I guess in some cases, they might be a good thing to have, such as for business purposes. But!

You-know, I came close to getting one of these things. I was going to get a black market iPhone for $650. What the hell would it have done for me? I could spend the $650 on one or more tools for the woodshop and be much better off.

I think it’s about time I reassess my spending habits in so far as these technological devices are concerned. Do I really need this stuff? Some of it I do. It would be sort-of difficult to get along without a little of it. Maybe if I would have bought the more expensive working solution such as an Apple or a DELL, instead of trying to build systems, in the end, I would have saved time, headaches, and money. The HVAC works. If I would have tried to install a heating/AC system myself…? In the end would I have saved money? If the past is any indication… The all-in-one HVAC system did cost $6,000 more, but, it does work, and it works very well. As for the rest of the feel-good stuff, next time I’m going to have a heart to heart before I…

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It is at this time, now, that I realize I have bought a bunch of computerized stuff because I felt that each time I could make something fantastic, impressive, something that would save time, make things I do easier, give me piece of mind, and make me happy. But, I sit here with disappointment. Yes, there was three to five things out of the two dozen things that do work, but at what price did I have to pay to get this?

I purchased for about $400 a dedicated low power PC to hold my web pages. Because internet service providers no longer hosts personal pages, I decided to do it myself. But, why have a web page? Does it gain me anything? In reality it doesn’t. It does not make me a better person in my and other people’s eyes, it does not generate income, and I don’t use it myself. So, it was $400 wasted. Again, I would have been better off buying a tool for the woodshop.

Next there is the USB Raid drive I built. It started off being a simple purchase that mushroomed into a $672 purchase and a lot of hassles of returning stuff, refunds, and… Why?

I wouldn’t buy tools for the woodshop costing this much. Then why computer stuff? Because of all the hype. Seriously, the TV computer went through three iterations and still it is not fully working. No…this is the last one. Next time it is dedicated devices.

As for my next main PC?…a simple laptop like the one I have now, a hand-me-down from my son.

As for my wife’s next PC? It’s the one in the phone closet I’m using as a useless web page server that serves up my web pages.

It’s really hard to let go of the idea of putting up web pages. But…It’s really not doing me any good. It’s just feels cool to be able to say I have a web page. Oh well, it’s there. Maybe I can do something with it for the benefit of human kind.

Bill J. February 5th, 2011

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Update March 2016.

 I got a used tiny Mac Mini I7 Dual Core with SSD for my PC;  the TV room computer was replaced with a region-free DVD/Blu Ray/Internet/media player device; and my webpage server is now a $35 Raspberry Pi 2 B which takes less than 5 watts of power.