A Stranger In A Strange Land

“Everything’s up to date in Kansas City

They’ve gone about as far as they can go.”

Oscar Hammerstein

I am often asked how I find subjects for my Cape Cod Chronicle articles. My answer is that sometimes ideas just come to me as I am walking and sometimes they evolve from events in my life. This article comes from the latter.

We all drive cars today that are literally filled with hundreds of computers and sensors. My car is no exception, and one of the sensors tells me when I need a quart of oil. On the small screen which usually reports my speed, an oil can with a drop of oil popped up. I did what we all would do and went directly to my gas station and bought a quart of oil. After checking, I was told my oil level was just fine, but the indicator did not go away. Somewhat frustrated, I scheduled an oil change and servicing of my car. The service appointment went just fine, but still, the little oil can blocked my screen. My mechanic, whom I know is excellent, had tried to remove the notification to no avail. So I asked him again to try to clear my screen. He tried the manual, but no luck.

So I tried to read the owner's manual which might as well have been written in Sanskrit. I gave up quickly. I tried the internet and promptly found three solutions which I printed and followed to the letter with no success. I then emailed the auto manufacturer and I am waiting for a response, which brings me back to my title. In this world of technology and computers, I am a “stranger in a strange land.”

Technophobia is the term for fear of technology and computers. I’ve read that it can actually impact some people's lives. I haven’t reached that point yet. But watching “60 Minutes” last Sunday got me thinking. It is my favorite program and their piece on ransomware and municipal governments was concerning. Computer hackers have found that municipalities are easy picking. Major cities like Albany, Newark and Atlanta have had their computer systems shut down by hackers demanding a ransom. Riviera Beach, Fla. recently paid the hackers $600,000 to recover its computer system. Payment is demanded in Bitcoin which is more difficult to trace. A flaw in the Microsoft operating system is blamed for many of the attacks. Corporations have also been targets. Many corporations are presently making significant investments to protect their data and systems.

I don’t yet have technophobia, but I do wonder what I would do if my computer were captured. I suppose it is rationalization, but I have decided I could just move on and start over with another computer. For municipalities and corporations, such an idea is impossible.

I recently viewed a short film about DEF CON 27, which is an annual convention in Las Vegas for computer hackers. For $300, anyone can attend and learn how to hack virtually anything. Freelance reporter Kevin Roose was the narrator. Classes run all day with instruction from talented hackers as to how to infiltrate literally hundreds of applications. The potential for destructive activity is immense. The first demonstration I watched involved opening a locked car with a cell phone. It took less than 30 seconds. In another demonstration, the hacker acquired all of Mr. Roose’s information with a two-minute phone call to his cell phone provider. A few seconds later, the hacker had total control of his computer. This was a very frightening video.

As a senior citizen, I never imagined such a problem. And as the demographics point out, much of the population of Chatham is older, too. So life in the computer-dominated world of 2019 is a day-to-day

challenge. Yesterday, I got an email about the Equifax data breech which happened in September 2017. Equifax has settled a suit and has agreed to pay up to $700 million in damages. I was able to determine that my information had been exposed and that I was eligible for limited compensation. I successfully registered for that compensation which was a pleasant surprise. Success has been rare for me and I believe for many of us over 50. Computers are not a problem for my teenage grandchildren, but I often have to give up and move on.

When a computer-savvy friend tried to help me, I was told that I just didn’t understand “the architecture of my computer.” I agreed and said it started in the 1980s when I tried to read an IBM user manual. I still think IBM declined as a hardware manufacturer because of those terrible manuals. He pointed out that my computer was cluttered and lacked organization. I prefer to think of myself as a collector, and not a clutterer. As many of my readers know, I am a DJ on our community radio station, WOMR-FM in Provincetown. I play oldies rock and roll on CDs. So every other Saturday morning, I haul about 120 CDs in a canvas bag to my program. 120 CDs are heavy as I walk up the 23 steps to the studio. Usually my program is followed by a Nauset Regional student who arrives with their entire program on an iPad or sometimes a tiny iPod. Their automated program comes on a device two pounds or less while I stagger up the steps with my heavy load. I’ve always liked rationalization and this time it is not that I couldn’t learn how to use the modern devices, but rather that I somehow feel that vintage recordings should be played on vintage devices.

Until recently, I had actually felt quite proud about the progress I have made with technology. Email and texting is easy. I have learned how to access YouTube and how to create presentations downloading video onto Keynote, but there is so much more. I have Facebook and Linkedin and I participate in the CHAT-M-Room, but Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and Netflix are still in the future. I have Siri on my phone and Alexa on an Amazon Echo. I guess that probably sums up my progress with my computer. I feel confident that someday before I buy a new car, I will be able to clear the little oil can from my screen. I feel certain that, once again, I will be proud of my technological achievement. But the reality is that, like Kansas City, I’ve gone about as far as I can go.