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Uh-Oh! My Smartphone Is Smarter than I Am

Updated: May 10, 2020

By Merrill Hansen

The coronavirus and Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at home-order have presented challenges for many of us Michiganders. But computer skills and technological knowledge have made life much simpler during the pandemic for the people who possess them. By shopping online, they can avoid three-hour waits in social-distancing lines, and even buy cars without going to dealerships. Alas, I'm not one of those people.

I confess: I am technologically challenged, and barely computer literate. I have a smart (ass) phone that I am so dependent on, it would need to be surgically removed. But, I don't know how to correct the auto-incorrect feature that changed my group text message from "I'm having trouble finding the address with google,” to "I'm having trouble finding the address with gonorrhea.”) Basically, I can navigate online via email, word processing, and a modicum of Internet and text messaging, as long as there are no pop-ups that ask me questions. While I know other people say they, too, are challenged, they are lying, because in the next breath they tell me about a TV and toilet paper they just ordered from Amazon. I haven't the vaguest notion how to buy either one online, and can't imagine that they both could be ordered from the same store.

It wasn’t long into the pandemic before I realized I was in trouble. True, the first four days of the governor's stay-at-home order weren't difficult for me. I was able to read online. and use the types of social networking I enjoy, like Facebook and Twitter, which only require basic computer skills. But on Day Five, I woke up with a 101.8° fever. Having been exposed to a friend who had just been diagnosed with coronavirus, I knew instantly what the problem was. I was able to get hold of my doctor's office, and the physician's assistant said the doctor was going to want to see me in about an hour. When I explained that I was too sick to drive to the office, she explained that the appointment would be online. "Online?” I said in a panic. “What does that mean? Can't we talk on the phone?” "No,” said the assistant, as if she were talking to a five-year-old. “The doctor will want to see you. She’ll have a face appointment with you” (or whatever it is that she called it). “Didn't you get the email we sent out to all of the patients?" "I may have,” I replied, “but I didn't read it carefully because I wasn't sick then." Clearly, I was going to die if the only way I could get medical attention involved a computer program. Over an hour later, three phone calls back and forth and searching through a month of emails, I was able to "see" the doctor and schedule another appointment for two days later.

Passover presented another challenge. I was invited to a Zoom Seder, and even though I was sick, I wanted very much to share that holiday via social distancing with the friends and family I love. My friend Leah, who together with her husband were hosting the Seder, called to see if I was coming via Zoom. When I told her, “I'd love to, but I don’t know how,” she asked me with a faint hint of disapproval, "Didn't you get my email? There's a link and you just follow the directions." ((Uh-oh... another email link and follow-the-directions challenge.) She added the ever familiar "it's easy," (it never is), and then, the game changer, "We'll all be able to see and hear each other.” "SEE EACH OTHER??? I LOOK LIKE I COULD BE THE ELEVENTH PASSOVER PLAGUE!!!" My friend immediately put me at ease and said I could do it by audio only. It sounded easy, so I followed her instructions. Voila! But when I “arrived,” nobody heard me screaming, “I'm here!" I could hear everybody talking, but nobody could hear me. I waited and waited and listened to everyone talking. Finally, I heard someone say, "Where's Merrill?" I called one of the guests on her cellphone and could hear everyone laughing when she told them I'd been waiting for half an hour. It took the hostess less than a minute to solve the problem.

A few days later, when I was still licking my Passover wounds, I received a call from Steve, a friend who didn't know I was sick. During our conversation, he told me about a project he was working on regarding the virus, which he thought I might be interested in. Here we go again! My friend, who knows more about computers, phones, and every possible way to communicate using technology, than anyone I know, immediately wanted me to go to my phone's App Store, find the app he was using, and install it. "Whoa, did you forget you are talking to me, Merrill? I've never installed anything on my phone." Over the next two days, my friend had me try at least three different apps; the last I heard from him, he said with exasperation that there were no problems with the apps and they work fine for everyone else he knows (and he knows the immediate world). I haven’t heard from him since.

I’ve decided to conquer my computer phobia head-on, and am going to stop asking my son and daughter to order things for me online. Eventually. In the meantime, I'm typing this on my cell phone. My laptop battery needs to be replaced, and I don't know how to order a new one online.

Merrill Hansen is a legal assistant, living in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She describes herself as a frustrated writer, who wishes she could be Nora Ephron (when she was alive), if only for a day. She is a news-, political- and FB-junkie, a combination that requires a constant reminder that she needs to take deep cleansing breaths when responding to people who don't agree with her.



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