A few years back, I was in this nondescript testing center in Edina, MN, filling out a privacy agreement prior to taking my GREs. I’d studied for a good four hours the night before and gone through a series of preparations in the weeks leading up to the exam. A solid score meant I could possibly pursue a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Iowa, Arizona or maybe Oregon State. (That’s what I thought at the time, anyway. Silly boy.)
The test? No trouble at all.
The hardest part? Rewriting the privacy agreement in cursive. The statement was about 60 words long, and I remember sitting in a room with several others prior to the test, laboring over how to make a lower-case “Q” when I should’ve been more concerned about the actual test. It literally took me 20 minutes to rewrite the statement, and in the process, I nearly blew out my wrist and forgot math. (That’s the excuse I use for my less-than-desirable math score.)
I don’t know how to write cursive. In fact, I don’t know a lot of things that were really, really basic just a decade or two ago. And that’s what this post is about because yesterday, again, exemplified how naive and ignorant technology has made me.
I just sold a pair of shoes on eBay, so I needed to send them to the buyer in California. Seems easy enough, right? Put the shoes in the box, put the box in the mail? Well, eBay has this rather convoluted process for sellers where one is referred to the PayPal Web site to print off a shipping label. I know about as much about shipping as I do pop culture in Sri Lanka, so this is where my confusion began.
I printed the label made for a box much larger than the one I was actually sending. Better safe than sorry, I assumed. I figured I couldn’t just slap a label on a Nike shoebox, so I wrapped it with pages from the Willamette Week. Not really paying attention as I went along, I ended up wrapping the box with the personal ads and the ad section which features nearly all of Portland’s strip clubs. When the wrapping was complete, the box looked a little like a porn bomb — something you might expect from Ron Jeremy or the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.
It’s important you know I’m the guy who will stop at a gas station when lost. I know myself too well to not ask for directions. I can play up humility to the point where I probably sound ditzy, but I like to think of it as good old fashioned self-degradation:
Me: “Say, I’m a product of the South Dakota public school system. Can you tell me how to get to 47th and Main?”
Helpful Stranger: “Oh, wow. Yeah, no problem. Take your second left and then a right.”
I took this approach at the post office in the Pearl District where I sought out the least threatening female employ. Her name tag said Sandy and she’d pimped out her navy blue U.S. Postal Service shirt with various buttons and ornaments. She had to be someone’s grandma, so I expected some mercy.
“Look, this is really embarrassing but I need help sending this package,” I said.
She looked over the package and shook her head, which she then began to scratch.
“OK, first off, you’re going to need to tape down these corners and that label needs to be secured to the box. It looks like you’ve got a little extra weight to work with but that’s OK. Priority mail? That’s fine. You want that. Look, take this tape roller, go over there, secure the package, drop it in the blue box in the corner, and you’re good. OK, doll? Does any of that confuse you?”
Have you ever tried to teach your parents technology? What about your grandparents? My grandfather got a laptop computer just a few years ago and its in a permanent state of disfunction whenever I go to visit him. Patiently, I try to explain how to better use the computer and not click on every ad that claims he’s a winner. I tell him some e-mails aren’t appropriate to send along, because they might be considered rude or offensive. I try to explain viruses and spam, but I worry he thinks there’s actual germs, bacteria and canned eat inside his computer. I try to keep things simple.
How strange it was to be on the other end of the spectrum, where I know everything in the world about technology, but postage? Shipping? Cursive? That’s where Sandy, my grandpa, my parents or any number of elders have me beat. It’s a total role reversal, which makes me think my ability to use technology is still a strength, but my reliance upon it is a weakness.