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When Technology Makes Life Harder

Emerging technologies have, without a doubt, made life much easier in many ways. I can transfer money from my savings to my checking account in minutes without hauling myself to the bank. I can order almost anything we need online, instead of driving all over town to look for a particular cable or type of battery at a reasonable price. And I can upload a PDF and a cover image to a POD service and have a finished book on my doorstep within the week.

Unfortunately, technology has not improved life equally for everyone. State governments have stopped sending out paper tax and disability forms and just put them up online, leaving people like Sweetie's father who don't own a computer high and dry and foisting the burden to pay for printing on libraries and other local entities. Companies offer their promotions exclusively to people with Facebook accounts, publishers have stopped bothering with paper books because "everybody" has tablets and smartphones, and the Apple/Microsoft wars cause massive headaches for developers and customers alike. You want to try an OS X app but you run Windows 7? Too bad. You need to use Microsoft software for a project but the Mac version runs like a three-legged sloth? Deal with it.

And sometimes, even if you do have access to the technology, it just makes your life more difficult.

Yesterday and today I worked on my final for my copyediting course, and I needed to research a particular question—I knew colons can only follow independent clauses, but I wanted to make sure there's no exception for incomplete clauses that introduce postal addresses (e.g., "Send your application to: 555 E. Main St., Nowheresville IN 12345"). The Chicago Manual of Style said nothing about it, so I tried the collective wisdom of Google. I searched for "colon before address," and...

Colon = Comma

A colon is not a comma, Google! Luckily I had the know-how to set the search to Verbatim and stop the engine from "improving" my query.

Then last night I had an interview with an employer who, instead of inviting applicants for in-person meetings, conducts all of their interviews over Skype. In theory, this was to make the setup much less of a hassle for all concerned. Instead of driving two hours to the site, I could just hop onto my laptop and chatter away. In theory. What actually happened was this:

  1. Spend an hour researching Skype, downloading the software, and trying to create an account with no success because the registration form doesn't specify that passwords can't contain spaces.
  2. Spend another hour messing with and testing the laptop's internal microphone and webcam.
  3. Dedicate a third hour to positioning the furniture so that the wall presents a clean white background, fiddling with the relative heights of the computer and the chair, and trying to find an angle that doesn't make my head look odd.

After all of that setup, I ran into a big, big problem during the main event: I couldn't look at the camera and at the committee at the same time. Since the camera is mounted on the top of my screen, if I wanted to look at my interviewers, they would see my head tilted down and away. And vice versa, to make a good impression for the camera, I had to look at the little white light next to it instead of at the interviewers' faces. So I would look at the screen to watch them while they asked questions, then look up at the camera to answer. This means I missed any visual cues they might have given while I talked—nods, smiles, fidgets, wandering eyes—that could influence the direction of my responses.

All in all, the Skype system made the experience very awkward and unnerving. Honestly, I would have preferred to make the drive. The most sophisticated conferencing software out there still can't replace old-fashioned face-to-face interaction. I can only hope that my competitors had just as bad a time of it as I did.

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