Thursday, June 14, 2007

Upgrading Can Be So Degrading

(From the June 14, 2007 Grand Haven Tribune)

Call me Tim 2.0. Or, if I’m honest about my age, Tim 4.3. The point is, I’ve upgraded. As I’m realizing, upgrading can be exciting, but it can also be….degrading.

You can see this by the ‘upgraded’ photo that now accompanies my column. I had lasik surgery and no longer need glasses. I will, however, continue to make a spectacle of myself when I have the opportunity. But seriously, what an amazing upgrade to my human eyeballs. When I got glasses back in the ninth grade, I dreamed that such a tool would be able to ‘zap’ me back to 20/20 vision. Now it’s a reality for so many people.

On the other hand, my new photo also is a little degrading to me. That’s because, while my mug does not bear spectacles, it also has considerably less hair. I can go to the secretary of state’s office and tell them to remove the “corrective lens” item on my driver’s license. However, they may need to put a question mark next to “hair color.” I am now “follicle challenged,” a “person of scalp.” How degrading.

I thought about this while weeding the garden the other day. I was pulling grass from around some trees and yucca plants. Taking a break, I sighed when I surveyed a part of the lawn where grass would not grow. It grows where I don’t want it, and it won’t grow where I want it. The same is true of my hair now. It doesn’t grow in the natural location—the top of my head. It must have entered a relocation program, because now hair is appearing on parts of me that would seem to have no use for hair. How degrading.

The same upgrade/downgrade phenomenon happens with machines. I finally had some time to upgrade the operating system and applications on our home computers. I must say, there are some pretty slick enhancements with the upgrade. Old bugs are worked out. The bells and whistles are fun to use. But at the same time, there are issues. It can take time to learn these new features and functions. And some of the old features and functions aren’t on the new versions. Worse yet, some of the upgraded software is no longer compatible with some peripheral equipment and older documents. It’s sort of the way my newly aerodynamic noggin is no longer compatible with our old wedding photos. How degrading.

A similar feeling happened when we recently went to upgrade our cell phones. We were hoping newer models would improve reception and allow for some enhanced functions. Yes, the style of the phones and the colorful screens are an improvement from our old monochrome versions. But once again, some things we liked about the old phones are no longer possible. For example, we can’t record our own voice commands. So when I use the “upgraded” technology to call home, my new phone dials the office. It was a little confusing to hear a receptionist answer what I thought was the home phone. Some days, it would be nice to have a receptionist at home. “Mr. Penning,” she would say from behind a counter, “the main floor bathroom is open now. You may go in.” But that might be a little degrading too.

Meanwhile, back to the cell phones. I no sooner had signed a new two-year service agreement for a new “upgraded” plan than I got a shocking email. I was informed of my next bill due, showing a balance that had an extra digit. It made me want to show one of the centrally located digits on my right hand to the cell phone company and ask if they could hear ME now. Turns out, their “upgraded” computer system had counted a one-minute-and-four-second phone call as a 24-hour call. The call was to one of my clients, who said she would testify if need be that we hadn’t talked for an entire day. Eventually, the clueless wireless company credited my bill. But the experience was frustrating, and a little degrading.

Next on the list is a new television. The one in our basement den shows bizarre colors and jerky lines. It’s hard enough to see a hockey puck without all that, so we’ll have to upgrade to a high definition, digital TV. We all have to anyway before 2009 when broadcasts will be all digital. This means I’ll have to upgrade our cable service as well. And that means my well-educated but increasingly shiny head will turn red when I sheepishly ask some 19-year-old salesman a bunch of questions about how this upgraded TV stuff all works. How degrading.

Oh well, what is life if not give and take, a constant trade-off of being upgraded and degraded. I just hope I can enjoy the current version of myself all my stuff for more than a few years.

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