While searching for an old diary journal, I stumbled across the two user manuals for my vintage Canon AE-1 35mm film camera. I had purchased the refurbished camera back in 1978 from a shop in downtown Norfolk, Nebraska after having saving up enough funds to purchase a decent camera.
In its day, the AE-1 was about as technologically sophisticated as a consumer level camera could be. Hence, the two booklets that explained various features of the unit. Despite the fancy features, I usually shot in manual mode, or if there was a tricky situation in which I had to act quickly, I switched to automatic mode, so I could concentrate on focusing the lens. The camera helped school me about the basic ABCs of photography, but I never used half of the camera’s built-in features.
After perusing them, I set the booklets aside and pondered the old camera that is currently parked inside of a clear, plastic display case along with a “dedicated” flash unit. Several years have passed since the last time I packed up the camera to use in the field. It used to accompany me nearly everywhere I went. I mentally compared it with the string of digital cameras that have come my way, including the camera functions on my tablet computer and mobile phone. There is no longer any need to make allowances for a bulky camera and how to always remember to carry one with me.
That said, I still only use a small fraction of the features of any of the digital cameras or the built-in tech of the tablet and phone. I’m simply too lazy to deal with so many control features on the touch screen or to manipulate the confusing button controls. To figure out how to use them requires a Google search, or at best consult a downloadable copy of what passes for user manuals in PDF format. By trying to be everything for everyone, the point and shoot camera has become a baffling maze of technological wizardry.
The same complexity has been built into the newest cars. Meantime, my Toyota is over 21 years old. Its dashboard consists of a speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and engine temperature gauges along with a few other “idiot” warning lights. They are simple and straightforward. Then, there is the matter of the standard built-in cassette player/radio. It’s the most confusing part of the car. The controls are so intricate that to twiddle the knobs while driving would be hazardous. I set them to my particular listening tastes a few years ago and have just let them be. I now only twiddle with the sound volume and the radio tuning functions.
Three years ago, I needed to have the car’s clutch replaced, so the mechanic’s shop loaned a minivan to use during the two days the car would be awaiting parts and service. The day I brought in the Toyota, a combination of snow and sleet had coated the window glass of the loaner Dodge van. The engine had been pre-started to enable the heater/defroster to warm up. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the defrosters’ control buttons. I had to walk back inside the shop and beg for a plastic scraper tool in order to clear the vehicle glass.
With the windows finally cleaned, I buckled into the driver’s seat and pondered the operating controls of the mini-van. The dashboard itself was worthy of the Concorde SST. A touch screen with arcane symbols urged me to switch on the infotainment system. Meantime, I just wanted to back out of the parking space and safely arrive home. Right then, I yearned for the bare-bones simplicity of the old Camry’s controls. I could barely wait to drive the old Toyota again.
I’ve become the older man that teens and twenty-somethings like to ridicule because they think old folks are Luddites. I don’t dislike the latest technology, I just don’t like having to cope with epic-length operating instructions and trying to figure out how to use so many of the mysterious features that have been built into stuff these days. It was just last October that I decided to figure out how to use the program features of my 17-year-old Amana Radarange. Learning how to program the microwave felt like an epiphany.
My young friend Jonathan once remarked that many of my appliances and the car are old enough to legally drive and vote. I wonder if there aren’t some arcane controls I haven’t yet discovered that will allow them to do so.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes philosopher/writer, Aldous Huxley. “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”