Saturday, October 11, 2014

In which I find I am technologically challenged

Before I leave the subject of my doffness completely, there's one other incident I've had a big chuckle about…well, more than one chuckle, to be honest. It's not about absent-mindedness, this one. No, it's about that other symptom of advancing years…the inability to keep up with modern technology.

I should say I've never been one for buying the latest and newest piece of techno-gadgetry. On principle, I will buy second-hand stuff rather than new and that extends from phones to cars. I've only ever had one new computer, and one new car in all my nearly sixty years. These days even my smart phone is not smart at all and I cannot work out how to use touch screens, tablets or pods with any semblance of dexterity; I'm just not that savvy…or maybe it's that I'm not that interested.

So when the day came that I flew to Birmingham this last August expecting to drive a hire car, imagine my consternation when they introduced me to a vehicle from out of some kind of sci-fi movie. I'm really serious. I couldn't believe what this thing did.

What happened was that I'd booked a car online (as one does these days) and I'd specified I wanted a manual gearbox. I've never driven automatics so I always tick the box to show I want a normal car with a normal gear stick.

Well when I arrived, things started out badly anyway, which set the scene for further dismay. I was already hot, bothered and frustrated because I couldn't find the car hire office but then even madder at myself because I'd put the wrong return date on the booking form and found I had to pay more than double I was expecting to bring it back a day later. As a result, by the time they took me out to my hire vehicle I was definitely not in the best frame of mind.

The receptionist showed me to the car - at least that's what it looked like. I don't remember now what it was, but on the outside at least it seemed quite normal, bar one thing. It didn't seem to have any mirrors. Never mind, I thought. Perhaps they pop out when the car starts (I really did). I knew things had changed since 1995 which was when my old Opel was built so I was prepared for some small surprises. But, as they say, this was not all...

The receptionist handed me what looked like a small credit card and told me that was the key. She showed me where to poke it in and then hurried off to deal with another customer.

I got in the car and looked around. This was when I started to get worried. Nothing looked normal. There were only two pedals; there was no proper gear stick - just a lever thingy - and there was a computer screen where the  speedo and rev counter should have been. I realised to my concern they'd given me an automatic, but then what was this screen? How did I start the car and where were the mirrors?

Still, trying (but in truth failing) to be courageous, I stuck the credit card into the slot where the receptionist had shown me. The computer screen sprang into life and filled up with numbers and blinking symbols…but the car hadn't started. At least I couldn't tell if it had or not. There was a faint sort of purring, but I couldn't find a resident cat and nothing else seemed to be moving.

Frustration set in. I tried again at least three times and still the car didn't seem to do anything except purr faintly. Was it or wasn't it running? I really couldn't tell.

So it was that eventually I marched back to the office and demanded help. The astonished assistant who was now at the desk listened to my complaint and then said, "But madam, it's a hybrid car. Don't you know about them? It's electric, so of course you can't hear it."
"But it's got no gear stick either!" I wailed.
"No, madam, it's an automatic. Look," he said patiently, "I'll come and show you how everything works."
Still deeply troubled and very suspicious, I followed him back to the now-dubbed space invader.
We got in.
"Put the card in the slot."
I did.
"Now watch the screen. As soon as it says 'ready', you can drive. Just remember never to use your left foot"
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because there's only an accelerator and a brake. You must never use your left foot, see?"
Okay… well, not really, but...
"Now watch the screen again. Put your right foot on the brake and keep it there. Now put the car into drive."
"But it's not running!" I said, confused.
"Yes it is, the screen says so."
"The screen says so…right…"
"Put the car into drive and watch the screen."
"What must I be watching for?"
"What's behind you, that's what," he said patiently.
"But why can't I use mirrors?"
"There are no mirrors, madam."
I looked at him, I looked at the alien controls of this automatic hybrid thing that I couldn't hear and couldn't feel and decided I was absolutely not going to give up control of my already iffy directional sense to a computer screen.
"Nooooo!" I exploded. "I can't do this, I'm sorry, but I'm NOT driving out into rush hour Birmingham in this thing. Find me a proper car!"
The assistant looked totally flummoxed.
"But it is a proper car, madam."
"No. It isn't!" I squeaked. "I wanted a car with everything in the normal place…and a gear stick...not this…whatever you call it!" To my shame, I burst into tears.

Well, that convinced him. After making embarrassed but soothing noises, we got all my luggage out of the space invader and I was led back to the office until they could find me something else. After about half an hour someone delivered a small manual drive Peugeot complete with standard speedo and displays (although even some of these were digital) and they hurriedly handed me the keys and sent me on my way.

When I told my family this story, we all had a good laugh at my histrionics, but it was a bit of a salutary lesson. I've now acknowledged I need to go on a course or two on how to cope with some of this 21st century technology. I dread to think what I'll do otherwise when my old and trusty car (with wind up windows and old fashioned cassette tape deck), computer and phone (no touch screens in sight) give up. Or maybe I'll just have to accept it's time for me to give them up too! What do you think?


  1. Val I commiserate with you, for I to drive a proper car with mirrors, gear stick and a pull up handbrake which is 16 years old & still running well.

    Last week we were visiting the library and there was a brand new beastie seemingly parked half way across the drive. I said to Mrs H it looks as if the driver forgot to put the handbrake on.
    So herself scurried into the library to find the driver who came out and moved the vehicle into parking space.

    It was afterwards that we found out that new cars don't have parking levers - they have a parking button instead.

    Well goddess help them if the battery ever goes flat !

  2. O.M.G.! Now I'm scared too, Val. I will never, ever, learn to drive such a beast. My car is 8 years old, and I am figuring I will just keep driving it until it or I give up. After that, it will be the bus or a taxi for moi.
    What an awful experience for you - and I would have burst into tears, too.

  3. I bought a new car last year, but it is a proper car with stick and mirrors! My son's new car even parks itself, you push the button, it finds a gap big enough and then parks. The driver takes his hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals and away it goes!!! Scary stuff xxx

  4. Thank you for your sympathy Me. I don't think I got as far as checking if there was a handbrake lever, but now I come to think if it - probably not! Dear oh dear!

    Patricia, I think many of us will be faced with these problems. Maybe we all need some re-education :)

  5. Hi Val - I dread hiring a car ... our one in Canada had a stick and I coped just - but wide roads and not much traffic.

    I did drive an automatic as a youngster and then drove my uncle's to keep the car running for him - which I inherited ... but it's old: so I know when I change life will be interesting!

    I can exactly imagine how you felt - especially as it was rush hour in Birmingham ...

    Glad you're safely returned!! Cheers Hilary

  6. As a non car-owner, I hire cars from time to time and have had all sorts of difficulties with them, from how to start the engine (with your foot on the clutch - why?) to being unable to find lights/windscreen wipers etc.

    But the most fun - some years ago a friend and I did a 2000 mile road trip across America. We pulled in for 'gas' and couldn't open the cap. The more we couldn't, the more we laughed, till tears were rolling down our cheeks and we couldn't have opened a door, let alone a petrol cap. At which point a man strolled across, grinned and said, in a lovely Southern drawl, 'You two gals is having far too much fun filling up with gas!' (Then he helped us.)

    It became out mantra for the trip and we can still dissolve if one of us whispers, 'You two gals ...'

  7. Congratulations on being staunchly unwilling to drive on this occasion. Unfamiliarity with one feature is bad enough, but when it's all alien, you'd be quite at risk on unfamiliar and very busy roads. Good for you. I'm sure I'm not alone in remembering how completely at sea it feels to drive a left-hand drive vehicle for the first time after always driving the right-hand one.

  8. I feel your pain Val. I drive a lot of hire cars for work and they are all different. Sometimes it's hard even to get them to start! And try working out how to open the petrol cap on some of them.

  9. Val, yep a lot of things are changed and will be change very fast every day, but we know how it was without the technical stuff and we are in advantage over all the young folks. I use a new Macbook Pro and I will never miss this progress. Since some weeks I had a new car build in Oxford, and I have only a start/stop button and if I sit in the car I can start. No slot for a key card, or an old fashion key. You can order this car without all the beeps to help to drive backward and other stuff. I think only for old people like my parents this is a good help. I need no navigation, because I can read a map, only for towns I use a mobile one. The problem is, if new and young generations will be captured by the technical industrie and the economy they will be addicted. Not only the young will be fished by the industrie, go and have a look about the smart phone people in our society. Now it's enough with my writing. Have a good Sunday. Stefan xx

  10. There was me, thinking I was in the minority for hating modern technology. I have always been a technophobe, so it has nothing to do with old age.
    Listening to you all, I am so pleased I decided to hang up my car keys a while ago. Can't see well enough these days, but that's another story!

  11. You have my sympathy Val.
    I'm just learning to drive in our old Toyota which is grand but no way could I have driven the hybrid you describe. I'm fine with Macs but can't manage smart phones - like you I am not interested as I am happy to be offline and un-contactable in the real world.

  12. Martyn's audi is like this. It seems all wrong to a 2CV is manual and feetal ..but it is how care are. Sadly. I'd stick to the boat..unless they digitize the water...

  13. Good gracious Val, I can just about envisage a car with no apparent engine noise but no mirrors? That makes no sense to me. I;ve driven an automatic for many years, it is actually easier than gears, just takes getting used to. But my car is a 25 y . o Volvo 740 estate with no computer and if it ever gives up I will try and get a similar model, similar age, with no computer.

  14. Gosh, thanks for all the sympathy everyone. I feel a lot better about it now I know all your MUCH younger souls have the same problem :)

    Hilary, if I'd had a few hours to get the hang of it first, it might not have been so bad. I'm sure I'd get used to anything in time…

    Jo, lovely story! I can just imagine you and your friend over there!

    Christina, I hadn't even got as far as worrying about which side of the road I was on…now I come to think of it…

    Chris, thank you…I just wonder how anyone knows what to do when one of these new electronic gadgets they call cars goes wrong? Does anyone other than a trained computer scientist know how to fix them?

    Jaye, the thought of hanging up my keys is tempting, but the snag is that I love driving!

    Stefan, yes, you're right. I'm glad we still know how to do things without electronic aids!

    Jane, you are a woman after my own heart …about cars, Macs and smartphones!

    Carol, I'm thinking of that actually. If I get fed up with driving, I'll just go everywhere by boat :)

    Geoff, lovely to see you here! I'm so glad to hear you have a nice old wagon too. I think I'd have been okay if it had only been the automatic gearbox thing…it was the computerised controls that through me off balance so completely...

  15. Val- I truly laughed out loud as you described your "space invader." I do okay with technology but do not think I would be ready to drive that car with a credit key card and no mirrors. Just got a smartphone and I am also late to the party. I say take it one new thing at a time, only when you are ready or forced to move forward. Lynn(LOL)

  16. Thank you, Lynn! I'm glad you saw the humour in it. I didn't so much at the time, but the more I look back, the funnier it gets. :-D

  17. I would have been too. I don't know anything about electric cars.

  18. Oh, Val, I so empathise with you! As one who panics when presented with anything remotely technical, I would have been similarly terrified of driving that THING! Especially, in Birmingham traffic.

  19. Thanks Nas. It's been great to read how many others would feel the same.

    Jen, I can face it if I'm given time to work things out and practise, but that was too much to expect, especially in Birmingham traffic!

  20. I drive an automatic but I too would not have been comfortable in that car without a few lessons. However that is not the point. They should have given you what you asked for straight away.
    I sort of keep up with technology, but I have my daughter to help me with smart phones and computer shortcuts. In fact my phone is more up to date than hers :)

  21. I haven't driven a hybrid either and I'd have asked for instruction too. I don't actually like driving and didn't when I was 18, nor could I be bothered at 18 with anything technological - even changing the roll on a supermarket till on Saturday job pissed me off. You're entitled not to like it, I say! Glad you got a car you liked in the end...


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