Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mom struggles with new remote

My mother stared at the new cable remote the way the ancients must have stared at a solar eclipse.

For a minute, I thought she was going to run into her bedroom and slam the door.

But the powerful demands of another glowing pagan god, the 42-inch Toshiba flat screen, exerted an even greater pull and my Mom is convinced she’ll perish without Diane Sawyer in the morning.

Thus, we began the ritual warfare where the impatient offspring must teach a techno-phobic elderly parent how to work a harmless battery-powered device that 5 year olds work the way Billy the Kid did Colt .45s.

Really, I think I could get through the process if only I were allowed to shout profanity. I’d be fine if at my breaking point I could just dash out on the porch and deploy echoed f-bombs from the fifth floor balcony of the Pittsburgh high rise where my 76-year-old mother nests.

But, I swear, I can’t swear because if I did she’d think I was swearing at her not the situation and that would break my heart. Plus, even if she did understand my rage was aimed elsewhere, she’d say, "Now, you know I don’t like it when you use that kind of language,” and I’d turn into a little boy again and feel that peculiar sort of shame that 46-year-old potty mouths like me really should be over.

Like most sons, I love my dear white-haired mother. But that kind of love is fraught with challenges in a world that keeps zooming past at warp speed.

See, she didn’t need a new 54-button Comcast remote. But the recent switch to digital required Comcast send her a new receptor box. I drove the hour from my home and installed it.

I was happy to. I take the kids, we get to enjoy time with grandma and I get to feel like a good son who responds to simple tasks with cheerful efficiency.

I gave her a brief tutorial that touched on only the most basic functions of the new remote.

Two days later, she called and said she’d pushed a wrong button and had been without the big TV since we left. She could still use the small boxy TV in the bedroom, but in today’s day and age I could get charged with parental neglect if word of that sort of cruelty ever got out.

So back I went that night. I used the TV remote to key the set to channel 3 (then hid that troublemaking TV remote). I handed her the new whiz-bang cable remote and resumed my simple instructions. It seemed to take and the two of us sat down to watch the fine 1998 movie, “Waking Ned Devine.” She loved it, although she scolded that she “could have done without all that profanity.”

Profanity? I wondered. I must not have been paying attention.

We hugged, I said goodbye and drove back home.

I called again the next day. It wasn’t working again. She didn’t want me to make that drive yet again but I thought of the poor dear forced to watch Good Morning America on a screen that makes the U.S. weather map look like a postage stamp. I said I’d be right there.

This time I took scissors, paper and tape. I cleverly, I thought, made an ingenious remote mask that concealed all the button clutter. Banished were “GUIDE,” “PIP,” “MUTE,” “ON DEMAND,” "AUX" and a host of other button functions she’ll never need.

I told her to leave the television on all the time and to never alter the channel or the volume. In a world with more than 700 channel options, I was convinced she could get by with just one.

It didn’t matter. Somehow, someway, she SNAFU’d it all over again (and she’d cringe if she knew the derivation of that witty military acronym).

I called Comcast and asked if they had a three button remote -- on/off, volume and channel. Really, that’s all she needs.

“This is a very common complaint with the elderly,” he said.

If it’s so common, why can’t Comcast do something about it?

“Well, the demand is for more functions and that’s not going to change.”

Oh, yes, it will. There is a rising appetite for simplicity as brilliantly exemplified in an excellent Wired magazine article “The Good Enough Revolution: When Simple & Cheap is Just Fine.”

A backlash is brewing. My mother, a woman with whom I entrust the care of my beloved children in a 2-ton motor vehicle moving at 60 mph, should not be made to feel like an idiot by her inability to turn on a television and watch basic cable.

And I shouldn’t have to drive once again to her home to remove the offending box and turn back the cable clock to two weeks ago when she knew how to work a simple remote, which I must do tonight.

“I’m so sorry for putting you through all this,” she said.

I said I was sure I’d put her through lots worse all those years ago.

A widow for five years now, she worries about being a burden to her children and the loss of her independence.

I pray to God that He’ll ease the tensions bedeviling her and other seniors struggling with unnecessary tech troubles.

And I pray the pagan tech gods in places like Silicon Valley will find creative and simple solutions to these sorts of problems long before my own kids are stuck dealing with me.


Karen Harrington said...

I trust all of this will be in your memoir, no?

Tongue Trip said...

it started with being cute, funny and adorable and by the end i was misty eyed. i enjoyed this thoroughly and you are so gifted with the talent of writing and a great mother. :)

Chris Rodell said...

Scobberlotcher, I'm so flattered you take the time to read my stuff and comment. Yes, this is probably destined for another unpublished memoir so I'm glad you read it here before it disappears forever.

And, geez, Tongue Tripper, I'm so moved that you're so moved. I'm putting what you wrote up on my little refrigerator. Please refer your friends and thanks. You've made my day.