Me, My Selfie, and I


Me, My Selfie, and I

I can’t write about technology without dating myself. I fall somewhere within a demographic called Generation X. It’s a label I’ve always resented. My generation came of age under the giant shadow of the Baby Boomers, during a slow economy and the earliest stages of the Internet era, with only a mopey Winona Ryder and a greasy Ethan Hawke to represent us.

But we’re really not invisible, uninspiring or pathetic. There just aren’t enough of us to be heard above the clamoring of the demanding Boomers and the entitled Millennials.

I’m 43. I know that’s not so old, but it sometimes feels old compared to the ages 16 and 24 and 36 I remember so well. My parents are in their 70s, and we spend hours offering one another reassurance: them telling me I’m still a baby, and me telling them they’re not old.

I say, “70 is the new 50,” and they say, “I’d love to be in my 40s again,” and then we go out to eat.

My age is part of what makes me an awkward consumer who is aware of new technology, but slow to adopt. My love for all things old-fashioned is another snag, but I’ll just sound like a hipster if I start talking about gardening, writing letters with pen and paper, and listening to the radio.

I don’t miss writing checks, and I couldn’t do without the Internet, but my immersion in technology is still incomplete.

When it comes to parking payment technology, I’m making good progress, but I have a few chronic concerns. What I need most is to be able to use it without feeling like an idiot; to have a human to talk to when something goes wrong; and to know that my personal and financial information are safe from theft.

‘Stupid Is as Stupid Does’

We’re not as smart as you think we are, and payment devices are not as intuitive as you think they are. For example, the credit card terminals on the counters of the places I shop are all different. One store is equipped for the chip; another is not. One has a terminal with touch capabilities; the other requires the use of a stylus. Some have a key pad; others don’t.

I’m not dumb, but I can’t keep track.

I’m always swiping when I’m supposed to be inserting, or tapping when I’m supposed to be pushing buttons. Everybody approaches a payment terminal with different skills and experience. Some of us are verbal learners; others are visual learners.

The visual learners are going to look at the device and figure it out. The verbal learners are going to look for instructions. You can color the keys and paint on arrows, but I am not going to see those as instructions; in fact, they confuse me because I’m one of those verbal people. So many factors apply to the use and understanding of technology.

Simplicity is the key.

‘Bueller? Bueller?’

Whenever I’ve had a problem paying for parking, it has been compounded by the absence of an attendant or parking manager or a single human being who might be able to help me. I’ve parked in a crowded lot where the paystation was broken. I’ve lost my ticket and had no idea how to get my car out of the garage. I’ve been confused about how to pay for parking at all, including variations on that theme, such as where to pay, how much to pay and when to pay.

I once tried to pay for parking and used my anti-technology superpowers to confuse the paystation so much that it stopped working. There was a call button on the device, so my annoyed and impatient friend hit the button. (She was annoyed and impatient with me, because she’d paid for her parking and was ready to leave when my difficulties called her back to the depths.)

By some miracle, there was a person on the other end of that button, and he was very nice, but he had no idea what was wrong or how to fix it. I ended up following my friend out of the lot, ashamed, afraid and a thief.

‘I Demand the Sum …
of One Million Dollars’

Every time I use my credit card at a gas pump, I worry about some evil genius stealing my magnetic stripe data. Maybe they’ve connected a tiny chip to the pin pad or they’re driving by with a scanner that captures my card number and pin.

I check the card swipe before I use it, look around menacingly in case I’m being watched, and trust that
if the worst happens, my credit card company will treat me well.

I feel the same way in parking garages and at the sites of any other self-pay venues.

And I feel that way at Target, Trader Joe’s and Taco Bell, and on Amazon and any other online retailer I might patronize, because I know my purchasing power can be stolen anywhere.

Hackers are meaner, smarter, more motivated and more creative than any of us can imagine. I want the technology I use to be more innovative than the forces trying to steal my financial data.

My husband’s grandmother was born in a tent before the widespread use of the car, the phone and indoor plumbing. She, a member of the Silent Generation, lived through the Depression, and to her last days washed already-used Ziploc bags, saved blobs of tinfoil, and ate every morsel of food on her plate.

I’ve had a much easier life, but I can’t help holding on to some of my earliest indoctrinations: a dial on the TV, parking meters that take only change, and phones that stay at home. Not all convenience is uncomplicated. Nostalgia is fun, but I’m determined not to be an old geezer, even if I am two months shy of 44.

My two sweet daughters are part of the Post-Millennial generation – and I hope a better name comes along, because that sounds pretty anonymous.

It worries me a little that they’ve never lived in a world without the Internet or smartphones. But I believe their age group will be characterized by the way they embrace technology, but do not worship it.

They will benefit from all the amazing instruments of efficiency out there, as well as the inevitable backlash that will lead people to abandon constant digital interfacing for a healthier balance of the practical and social applications of technology. PTT

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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