and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
December #4

Have yourself a tech-free Christmas
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

'Twas the night before Christmas, and under the tree, every parent was testing, a toy battery....

Christmas has always been difficult for the technologically challenged. Tree lights needing to be untangled; train sets needing to circle the tree with the tracks meeting and no sections left over; Slot A fitting into Slot B. Where is the battery compartment on this toy? And where are the directions for making a cabin out of Lincoln Logs? Where are the directions for everything?

My first husband and I even had trouble assembling the plastic Disneyland castle. Of course, we were on temporary Navy duty at the time, living in a hotel room in Greece, crawling around the floor at the foot of our sleeping child's bed with flashlights in our teeth.

But times have changed. 'Tis the night before Christmas, and all through the house, parents can't stir without using a mouse and the tech support to go with it. What was once difficult is now darn near impossible. You have to wait for the kids to wake up and assemble everything they want themselves and your presents too!

When no kids are involved my grandchildren are still getting manually-operated action figures and pastel ponies grown-ups trying to celebrate a 21st century Christmas are lost in techno-hell. Take this last week please!

All Chip wants is a new camera, so he got checks for his recent birthday and another one from me for Christmas. He drove through holiday traffic to Hunt's Photo and Video store in Melrose with a newspaper circular advertising $50 off the camera he wants. He took his old camera attachments to make sure they would fit the new one.

Once that was all determined, and new attachments added, he took his relatively expensive purchases to check-out.

The computer-where-the-cash-register-used-to-be couldn't deal with the $50 off; its display kept insisting on full price. After several consultations with cashier, salesman and manager, Chip headed out the door without the camera, shouting, "Hello Internet!" over his shoulder.

I wondered why someone couldn't just get a pencil and piece of paper, and write down all the items, then add them up.

"Because", Chip explained, "without the computer, no one knows the prices."

Of course! No more little sticky tags on the box.

My gift was no easier. I was relaxing under the heat lamp at my chiropractor's, listening to music that contained some of my favorite New Age pieces from various CDs. Dr. O'Connor explained that it was his wife's selections for her iPod, and that she has a set for exercise, another set for meditation.

I asked him if he thought I am smart enough to learn to do that, and he assured me that I am. I knew this wasn't true, but I asked for an iPod for Christmas anyhow.

Chip didn't know what an iPod was, and I didn't really either, but he is good with motors and computers and can figure out anything eventually. Circuit City in Danvers was temporarily out of iPods, but the clerk was helpful, if busy, with other confused adults. We were assured that a little thing called Creative Zen would do the job.

I was all excited and started making lists of all the music I wanted to download, beginning with favorite movie themes like those from "Gone with the Wind," "Dr. Zhivago" and "The High and the Mighty."

I can't explain what went wrong, because I don't speak the language, but the first problem was that my computer is too old (six years!) to have the necessary whatevers. So I was going to have to get my songs from Chip's newer computer.

After he spent much of the weekend trying to create the Zen thing, he was told by tech support from both Creative and iTunes that the songs I want can only be uploaded to an actual iPod, not a Zen version. So the latter is going back to the store and he is going to start over.

Meanwhile I'm listening to Christmas music on WESX. My old Aiwa radio is pretty easy to operate.

We took a break from all the aggravation to watch "Sleeper Cell," an excellent Sopranos-like drama series about terrorists on Showtime at Chip's house. He has a Comcast thing that lets us watch whenever we want (don't ask me how), except when it isn't working.

This time when the error message flashed, however, he just called someone in Newfoundland and they fixed it immediately. Yea, Comcast!

Once upon a time, Christmas was simple: You rode your donkey into town, found a manger, watched the star. No camera was necessary. Eventually some artists painted your family. When you wanted music, angels were heard on high. Three wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, none of which required batteries or computers.

How on earth did we get from there to here?

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.