Confessions of a Slow Learner

I once facilitated a tele-conference. I should have gone to the dentist for a root canal instead.Inside modern conference room, focus on phone

Being anxious about the electronics involved, I arrived thirty minutes early. I wanted to be sure of the connection, the buttons to push, and the codes to enter.

Some participants would call in from their homes or offices; others would group in a nearby community to call; and a few would join me in the conference room in Craig. All were busy people; I didn’t want to waste their time.

I started the meeting fifteen minutes late.

First, I couldn’t get an outside connection in the assigned room no matter how many times I pounded button nine. Then I aged five years running around looking for another room to use. Finally, when I entered the correct codes and established communication with all participants, the Craig attendees, who managed to track me to the new room, couldn’t hear the telephone conversation — though I had pushed the conference-call button and could see its little green light glowing.

Finally, a participant accustomed to working with the incompetent told me to hang up the receiver.

Oh.

How was I supposed to know that?

I never know how things work — things other people use without apparent thought. One of my earliest memories is trying to open the front door at my grandmother’s house with a big key. I remember sweating out my ringlets as I twisted the key, struggled with the doorknob, rammed the door with my shoulder, then turned the key over and repeated the process. Behind me, older cousins questioned my intelligence, shoved me aside, and opened the door.

I panic when faced with unfamiliar gadgets: easy-open pill bottles, cell phones, remote controls, can openers. Truthfully, I’m still perplexed by the wider prong on an electrical plug.

The computer program, PowerPoint, a meeting must-have when I was consulting, nudged me toward retirement. Too often, in meetings I attended, the participants never saw the PowerPoint presentation because the technology didn’t work. Red-faced people rushed around trying to correct the problem while the audience fidgeted and glanced at the clock. Imagine me responsible for that mess: I had difficulty with overhead projectors.

"IT could be that it's not plugged in, but that would be too easy."

I am trainable, though. In the past, with time and practice, I mastered a sewing machine, an 8-track tape player, and alarm clocks. I even achieved proficiency with computers, though I had my doubts in 1980 when I attended a word-processing workshop where the instructor mopped away sweat, rolled his eyes, and became irritated when most participants didn’t know how to turn on the mystery machines sitting in front of them.

Though I feel partially proficient with computers now, when we upgrade to a model with different bells and whistles, I become so tense I speak in squeaks. Usually Joel, responding to my frustrated howls, reaches over and casually accomplishes what I spent thirty minutes trying to do.

Then I feel resentful.

I tell myself his advanced skills result from extended experience, not intellectual superiority.

But when I’m flummoxed by the apps on my new cell phone, I wonder.

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62 thoughts on “Confessions of a Slow Learner

  1. I know the feeling. It took me six hours to install ms word. I finally had to be talked through it by a tech-rep over the phone. When my cell-phone quit working, I jumped in the truck and drove 12 miles to the phone store; the teenager at the counter reset the phone in two minutes and looked irritated.

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  2. Working in the tech industry, I am usually familiar with the technology and communications. I try to remind my staff that the people who aren’t that familiar, do something else for this organization and they know how to do that. On one of my technical blogs, the most popular post I had was titled “Remember, they have a day job” and it was a warning to my peers, not to feel so smug or get so frustrated. I have to reread it now and then 🙂

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  3. Oh my just reading this made me sweat a little. Through my career I taught myself how to use the computers and tech skills required for my job as a librarian. But as each new “thing” came along it was a fresh struggle mind you most of my peers were in the same boat except the young ones. I am a skilled public speaker BUT the reliance on technology to deliver a message did become very fraught ! I too retired as I saw such rapid advances coming in the library world that I no longer wanted to catch up so stepped aside and relaxed into my new life oh the relief. I only learn the new stuff I want to know about .;)

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  4. Janet, You had me from the first 2 sentences. I love (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE) the way you write. Technically fluent, over-the-top funny and always honestly YOU. And, of course, (as usual) I have NOTHING in common with you. Only a relatively new computer that I’d like to totally trash…. but, of course, it’s the “computer’s fault”! 🙂 You have me smiling and laughing every week. I’m so glad that “you found me”, so that I was blessed with “finding you”…Hm…or is it vice-a-versa? Who knows? My memory is another one of those “technological mysteries”…. Hugs! Lucie 🙂

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  5. I’m so impressed that you mastered the tele-conference I’m sure I could never do it. Things happen so fast with computers that it is near impossible to keep up. I remember needing to use one in the late 80’s and actually wrote down “push the orange button”. Beyond that it was a mystery. I find myself learning the bare minimum on all these devices—just enough to get in and get out. If I only had a 7 year old around it would all be clear. For an unknown reason, their brains come wired for sound. A great post Janet.

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    • Oh, Kayti, did you bring back unhappy memories. I used to clutch a pencil in my stress-sweaty hand to scrawl cryptic notes like “push the orange button” every time anyone told me anything about my computer. And I never did solve the mystery.

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  6. Janet, I’m not sure I should be laughing or crying or pounding my fist in agreement – maybe all of those things.

    I remember waking up summer one morning to a very dead laptop. I tried everything to get that darn machine working and of course nothing worked, so I called my tech guy. He came in, plugged the battery charger in, and flipped it on. It worked beautifully. I laugh every time I think about how many years that took off my life and the look of the tech guy at my basic computer incompetence.

    I 100% relate and laugh with you! It’s that silly technology that gets us every time!

    P.S. I have read your other posts – life has been insane so I allowed myself to binge read today 🙂

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    • Thanks for this delightful response, Tamara.I love reading how others I admire suffer from the same techno-stress I do.It sounds like your life is regaining some normalcy, and for that I’m glad. Also, I like your new blog title; I think it captures what you’re about.

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  7. And I thought I was the only one who couldn’t do keys. Don’t get me started on WordPress – I keep ticking the stay logged in button but it doesn’t. As for my fnqcy step counter. And why do they update the apps just when you have the hang of them. Just saying. Thank you again, Janet.

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    • It made my day to find someone else mystified by keys,Sally. I always turn them the wrong way or, in hotels, slide them the wrong way. I never enter a locked door without two or three failed attempts.And I, too, dread the updates that push me out of my comfort zone once again.

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  8. Oh, Janet, I’m laughing at “speak in squeaks”. I remember squeaking when Home Health suddenly converted from paper to laptops for all patient history/treatments and charting. I’d return to the office and get in the line of wild-eyed nurses who were unable to finish their day or prepare for the next; locked out of the program. Arrrgh. After a few hours Greg, our dedicated IT fellow, would return the laptop, look down at the floor, and quietly say, “it seems to be a user problem”. At least I wasn’t the only one. Now, “it seems to be a user problem” gets a big laugh at my house.
    Your words of panic and frustration resonate, and make me laugh.

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    • Mary, I always assumed you were an early adapter who sailed stress free on the ever-changing waters of technology, and I still think you’re darned good at it. Greg sounds like a prince of the IT world with downcast eyes and quiet words, trying to break the bad news. “It seems to be a user problem” has entered my arsenal of unforgettable quotes, and, when I use it, I’ll credit Greg

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  9. Being a minimalist, I held off learning the computer until two years ago, I took a class, myself and another elder woman, who spent the whole two days with the instructor trying to exorcise some unwanted porn. It’s all good, because I know I can be happy without it to. Thanks for the post Janet, good visual guffaw.

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      • We used to cram into a nasty, dank basement room near the toilets that still had blackout curtains from WWar #2 to watch films, teacher would struggle with the projector until the janitor could be found, Mr Gauthier would limp in, scratching and grumbling, if he did get the film threaded, it usually broke, and we’d all be herded outside to pick up litter. Doubt that happens nowadays…

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      • I don’t think it’s a common experience today, Lucie, but it certainly was during my student days. I remember well the glee when a creative projectorist would abruptly run a bit of the film backwards to our great hilarity. As a teacher, I gave up on such hijinks and always had a back up plan, beyond picking up litter, for when the projector got the best of me.

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  10. I used Power Point once with the “help” of a friend ( he actually did the whole thing). Now, when asked by the Emeritus College staff if I will be using Power Point, I simply say, “Just provide me with an erasable white board.”

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    • I guess the saying, “Misery loves company,” reflects our feelings about technology, Uta. At the same time I struggle, I feel a bit of sneaky pride that at my age I’m still trying to improve my use of technology. It would be so easy to give up.

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  11. Technology has its place in my life, I’d go bonkers without my gizmos – but that doesn’t mean they don’t drive me nuts when they won’t work, have run flat or I’m out of data. However, I have recently ‘discovered’ how good my pen and a piece of paper are … such clever ideas for a writer 🙂 Your posts are always brilliant Janet, thank you for reading 🙂 Linda

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  12. Oh Janet, you really spoke of the many truths of the computer age! I find that people (Katie and JL) have to show me how to do new things concerning technology. However, I had to learn more advanced computing to be able to show my art. I am proud that I have learned a lot and continue to do so, most of the time!

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  13. I’ve always been relatively quick to get up to speed with technology but hand me a Sudoku and I’m flummoxed! My mother can grow a seed into a beautiful rose bush and keep it alive for years but on the other hand it took us years to teach her how to send a text message without assistance. We all have our skills and weaknesses, they are what make us who we are.

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  14. I finally mastered a new operating system on my computer, wordpress, my new stove, and then the challenge of all challenges, the apps on my phone. Recently, my contract ran out, and I purchased a simpler phone, which I can use for texting and phoning ONLY. What a relief! Now I can do one of those things without having everything disappear and take me to a whole new window I know nothing about. Lot’s of cusswords! I wish there was an app that would allow them to hear their frustrated customers!

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    • Oh, yes, lots of cuss words. As your comment pointed out, we do learn; and we are smart enough to know when something is not worth learning. Good for us. Thank you for finding my blog. I’ll visit your blog soon.

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  15. I feel for you and with you. My ‘new’ laptop lies in its virgin state. My husband has given up getting offended that I lack interest in his expensive gift. Tension rises as I think about it. I retired soon after computers were brought to the work place. It seemed a step too far for me… though I have learnt to use one for the things I need. Loved hearing your experiences!

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    • I’ve been surprised by how many of blog friends have confessed to retiring, as I did, when technology seemed either too complex or not worth the learning. Like you, these day I learn what I need. Thanks for your interesting comment.

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  16. I’m with you on this, Janet. I consider myself intelligent and capable, but… I don’t seem to be able to figure out how things work. And it’s not just modern computers and gadgets. My stapler fell off the desk and split into three pieces and I could not for the life of me put it back together. I ended up buying a new one. Frustrating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rita, you’re the only reader to confess to the same ineptitude I have with all things mechanical. I would have had to buy a new stapler as well, and it continually irks me that I never seem to easily unlock anything. Frustrating is indeed the correct word for my ailment.

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  17. I remember my first computer, a Commodore 64. I wrote a little program in basic and wanted to save the file. Could not get that to work for love nor money. Thought it was me. So I sat down and read the whole manual, cover to cover, and discovered on the VERY LAST PAGE, that the disk had to be formatted before it would accept data. It was then I knew the techies don’t know beans about teaching, or friendly user interfaces. I am tolerant of their intolerance, I guess they have to feel superior to somebody, because the computer is not impressed and simply does not care.

    I am proud of myself for having learned so many different things in my life, things that are based on a huge array of assumptions. When I watch younger people doing things zip zip zip, I think good for them, for now, their turn is coming, things are changing even faster these days!!

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    • Thank you for this detailed, interesting, wise comment. I especially enjoyed, “…the computer is not impressed and simply does not care.” And I harbor the same thought as you when my grandchildren look amused when I ask for help, then give it much too quickly for me to comprehend: one day they, too, will be old and there will surely be new things they’ll have trouble learning.

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