What Technology Hath Wrought

Now that Christmas 2004 is safely under our belts — the belts that used to be hitched two notches tighter — it is time to reflect once again on what technology has wrought upon mankind.

Technology wrought a lot to the Burn household this year. First, there are the cell phones. With three teenage boys running about town in three different directions, we finally decided it was time to tether them to us with wireless cell phone technology.

Purchasing cell phones is an almost insurmountable task. How on earth these things ever became so prevalent in our society is beyond me. There is a bewildering array of cell phones available from specialty stores, brand name stores, department stores…even your grocery store. They range in price from $0 to several hundreds of $$$.

My wife and I were immediately attracted to the phones in the $0 price range. This is when we learned that there is a bewildering array of “plans” that allow you to actually use the cell phone.

Sure, you can score a free cell phone, but you have to sign a contract that stipulates that you shall commit to the “plan” for either three years or the next time that the orbit of Halley’s Comet brings it close to Earth, whichever is longer. And committing to the plan means that you pay out a certain dollar amount to the service provider each month for the duration of the plan. Should you fail to meet the requirements of the plan, you must either give the phone back, or pay off the remainder of the plan by placing yourself into perpetual servitude to the phone company, whichever is more convenient.

We decided that we did not want to commit to a plan. This meant that we had to pay actual dollars for a cell phone that we could use by purchasing pay-as-you-go cards. There is a bewildering array of pay-as-you-go cards. For the particular brand of phone that we bought, you can buy cards that cost anywhere from 5¢ to 40¢ per minute, and last from 30 to 60 days before they expire and you lose any unused minutes still on the cards. The array of cards was so bewildering that the little informative booklet that came with the phones needed several tables cross-referenced with the cycles of the moon to explain how much you will end up paying each month.

Then there are the menu items. The last time I gave it any serious thought, all I wanted to do to place a phone call was to pick up the phone, dial the number, and then hang up on the busy signal. Now I have to spend time trying to unbewilder a vast array of menu choices such as call display, call waiting, conference calling, call calling, voice messaging, text messaging, email, Internet, video games, audio games, type of ring, ring volume, level of vibration as measured on the Richter scale, auto-dial, re-dial, un-dial, and background image.

Finally, on top of the price we paid for the phones, we still have to pay our monthly phone bill, an activation fee, a deactivation fee, a 911 emergency service fee, a system access fee, local fees, long-distance fees, service fees, and a mystery fee just because they can.

But I am nonetheless content with our new cell phones. I must have been because I went and bought a new cordless phone for our house for Christmas.

We needed a new one because our old one refuses to hold a charge long enough to complete dialling a number. I looked into the price of buying a new rechargeable battery, but as is the case with most technological wunderthings, the cost of the consumable items is often greater than the cost of the item that does the consuming.

A good example is printers. Our local grocery store had an end-of-aisle display — right next to the eggs for heaven's sake — of a good brand name printer for $29! Of course, replacement ink cartridges cost more than a gross of eggs.

So I was not surprised to learn that a new cordless phone battery costs more than an entire new phone. Unfortunately, the new phone had pretty much the same bewildering array of features to sort through as our cell phones.

All of this was nothing compared to trying to find the correct video game for one of our children.

“Dad,” my middle son said, “I would like a Super Mario Advance 4 for my Nintendo Game Boy for Christmas.”

I like it when my kids give me a gift-giving idea. I do not like it when they do it two days before Christmas.

Before I ventured out, my eldest son felt that I needed to be better informed in order that I might buy the right game.

“Dad,” he said, “make sure that you buy the one that says Super Mario Bros. 3 on the package.”

“I thought he wanted Super Mario 4,” I replied.

“Yes, Super Mario Advance 4 for the Game Boy is the same as Super Mario Bros. 3, which was originally for the Nintendo Entertainment System,” he said.

Sensing impending disaster, I foolishly asked, “then what’s Super Mario 2?”

“Super Mario Advance 2 for the Game Boy is the same as Super Mario World 1 which was for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but Super Mario Bros. 2 was for the Nintendo Entertainment System and is the same as Super Mario Advance 1 for the Game Boy, whereas Super Mario Advance 3 for the Game Boy is the same as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Adventure for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and they all included the original arcade version of Super Mario,” he said.

Then he walked away.

So I went out and bought a gift card, which in itself is another technological marvel with the mysterious black magnetic stripe on the back of the card.

Now, having survived the onslaught of the latest technological bewilderments, I had hoped that I would have some time to uncramp my brain, relax, and enjoy some downtime before going back to work. But I saw my wife Googling the topic of Digital Cameras on the Internet.

I fear that there might be a bewildering array of them to choose from.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and is the principal behind the services of Statistics Courses. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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