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Technology should be getting easier

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I know I'm not the brightest bulb on the old Christmas tree, but I'm about to go completely nuts trying to learn how to operate my new laptop computer.

Part of my frustration, I think, is that somewhere I got the insane idea that this parade of technological advances marching past our noses would somehow become easier and simpler to understand and use.

But noooooooooooooo.

It doesn't get easier at all. It gets more complicated. And all I really want to do with my new laptop is write things down and keep them for later - you know, use it like a little typewriter.

OK, let's stop for a second here so I can explain that the first thing I did with my new laptop was watch a movie. It was during the era at our house known as The Time the TV Was Dead, but we were able to slip in a DVD and watch it in bed, which has to be one of the most decadent things modern life has to offer.

That was easy.

I've loaded music files into my new computer, as well as photos from my digital camera. That was relatively easy. I've even burned CDs of music and pictures, to keep or to give away, and that, too, was not difficult.

And, I know, if I ever get a home e-mail address again, I'll be able to contact people and institutions all over the globe, surf the World Wide Web and even access our system at work, allowing me to work from home or anywhere else I want to take my laptop.

Easy, easy and easy.

But remembering how to get into this latest version of Windows Office (which is where I find the Word program to write in) is a royal pain. There used to be a pull-down right at the top of my page that I could click on to open a new document, to save, to print, that sort of thing. Now it's hidden behind a series of electronic hidey-holes intended, I presume, to make me feel stupid and for the pencil-necked dweeb who designed this program to feel a little less dweeby.

You see, even though I'm something of a relic in the newsroom ('Tell us a story about how they did it in the old days, Grandpa'), I've never not worked on a computer of some sort. I've done IBM, Compugraphic, something called Mycro-Tek, a weird old yellow-on-black word processing system called Sun something and a couple different generations of Windows. And I am proud to report that I have even learned to program more than one kind of VCR to record television programs. I understand this has nothing to do with computers, your honor, but consider it circumstantial evidence that I am capable of learning new tricks.

I offer these things not to brag, but in an attempt to make the case that I'm not a complete idiot. I can drive a motor vehicle and operate power tools and most home appliances. I know how to make a meatloaf, and I can play a guitar and sing a song at the same time. To paraphrase Fredo in 'The Godfather II,' I'm not stupid. I can do stuff.

A few years ago I was interviewing a local entrepreneur, John Ott, about a technological venture he was involved in when we veered off on the topic of how accessible some of these gizmos are to regular, ordinary people. He tossed out an observation (borrowed from a Silicone Valley pioneer, as I recall) that I've never forgotten. We will only know we've really arrived in the high-tech world, he said, when our moms can operate this stuff. And, he insisted, we're not there yet.

When I recount some of the 'conversations' I've had with help-desk people over the years - in which I would speak English and they would use some other, unrecognizable language - I can only conclude that, in similar circumstances, the typical American mom would end up slapping somebody with a hotcake turner.

One final disclaimer here. I'm not one of those McIntosh people who jump at every opportunity to slam anything from the world of Microsoft. Although I'm probably exactly the person the old Apple computers were made for, I've never actually laid hands on one. As far as I can tell, that cult is just as full of goofballs as the Microsoft one is.

OK, that's enough complaining. If you're reading this, it means I figured out how to get this file out of my laptop and into the hands of an editor. If not, it's your lucky day.

Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections and contributes a regular column.