I’m convinced I must have hired myself out as a stand-in in some twisted Twilight Zone episode. TZ episodes continue to air here every morning; I take advantage of this timing to switch to watch those marvelous shows, giving myself a much-needed break from network news, shows like, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant,” and ads for sprays and ointments designed to camouflage natural body odors, that apparently the powers-that-be have decided originate primarily in women.

The TZ reruns are dated of course, but every bit as entertaining as when they were broadcast in the 60s. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I watched one we had never before seen called, “A Thing About Machines”: a very rich man residing in a huge house, a nasty piece of work, claims he is being besieged by his appliances. Clocks, toasters, TV’s all combine to drive him crazy. He goes through his house smashing glass, pulling out plugs, talking back to the TV set, screaming to no avail. He gets no sympathy from his maid who tells him to his face: “Mr. Finchley, in this conspiracy you speak of, this mortal combat between you and the appliances? I hope you lose!”

What an unsympathetic protagonist. In addition to being filthy rich, he’s condescending, selfish and mean. He gets his, let me tell you, and it’s not a pretty sight to behold him crushed by his late-model car. In fact, it was downright unsettling. You can poll my friends and even frenemies—neither myself nor my husband deserve such treatment. And yet. . .

It all started with our computer. Unreliable. We replaced it. Big mistake! No more nice Windows 6 for me. I was catapulted right into Windows 10 where even a teacher I hired agreed that there are dozens of confounding ways to do any one thing. I fail repeatedly to locate documents minutes after I have typed and saved them. Every move takes me hours to complete.

Plus—overnight my iPhone refused to keep track of my inbox Gmail. Well, it was an iPhone 6 so predicably ready for the junk heap. I did not argue. Naturally, I detest the new model—too many icons, too many choices, too much “noise.”

Our next delightful run-in with technology occurred when our TV turned black at the edges! Even we could see that this was hardly a good turn of events. After consulting with our cable company, we learned that our not-very-smart TV was at fault. We overcame our skepticism, rushing to the store to purchase a brand-new smart TV.

That’s when the fun began in earnest. Over a two-week period, the cable company sent several technicians to our home. Each one claimed to have the knowledge, the skills necessary to fix our problem. Each solution was unique and lasted approximately fifteen minutes to an hour before the TV reverted to its comfort zone: a blank screen. I wish I could express our dismay and discomfort at not having access to TV programs for an entire week. To give you an idea: I dissolved in tears and hid from my husband, refusing to learn any more techniques for turning on the set and having it stay turned on.

Readers, I prayed. I lamented to any who would hear me my earnest desire to return to my youth where I could just walk a few steps to the TV set, turn it on, maybe whack it a few times or pull on its rabbit ears. Who asked for all these frills and enhancements? Certainly not me. Certainly not my husband.

Finally, I signed up for a computer class at the local community college. I was so abashed at my lack of knowledge, my confusion, dis-ease, and anger at the state of the world, that in the middle of the class, I started laughing uncontrollably. The teacher tried to give me extra attention, but it was of no use. I was thrust back into remembrance of times past, when I held down corporate jobs and experienced no problems typing memos, manuals, reviews and the like. What happened in just eight short years? Isn’t there a way to turn the clocks back?

Okay, so my husband and I are not early adopters, but we’re hardly Luddites. Yet, I had to admit what I knew without a doubt: Technology had won! We tiptoe around our devices which now include a nonfunctional one-year-old washing machine, and as of last night, a broken air conditioning unit. We pray we are spared the fate of Bartlett Finchley, ultimately undone by his machines which, with the aid of his late-model car, reduce him to an unrecognizable pulp. To keep our spirits up, we console ourselves with one thought: How much damage could our little Mini Cooper inflict?

That was yesterday; today we’re ready to fight back. Why can’t we learn how to survive with high tech or return to simpler times? I was ready to give it another try. On our recent ten hour road trip to Toronto from New York, we unabashedly relied on not one but three tech devices to guide us (we hoped) to a safe landing: GPS, Google Maps, and Waze. We’ve always had trouble with the two GPS devices in the car, one old; one new. Either they stalled at 80% (of what, I do not know) or got busy battling satellites in the great beyond or wherever it could locate them.

The end result remained the same: we were driving blind. My brother, more of a tech person, advised us to restrict input to one device, but given the warnings above, this was not feasible. In the end we made it to downtown Toronto, but could not figure out how to get to our hotel. We drove around the Lake Shore neighborhood, more and more frustrated and distraught.

Finally, we stopped the car, I jumped out and beseeched a group of GenY’s to come to our aid. “Be our saviors,” I pleaded. They pulled out their iPhones and in a matter of mere minutes, located our hotel, a quarter of a mile away. We gave them our heartfelt thanks but my husband restrained me from doing a group hug. We realized we did better in foreign countries than in our own.

So what’s the takeaway? Rely on people not unfeeling machines?

I resolved to ignore tech solutions as much as humanly possible. No menus in restaurants lurking behind digital screens. I’d long forgone “smart” machines, sensing that the more technology employed, the more things were likely to break down—in the car, laundry room, den. Aggressive tactics were now called for. Oh no! I happened to read the NYT Magazine section devoted to what the future holds for us humans. More and more reliant on machines, robots will soon replace us until they figure out they don’t need us at all. We’re now teaching them to speak like us, to utilize grammar and appropriate idioms and, to be creative. How could two seniors possibly fight back? Even I could see it would be a losing battle from the get-go. I locked the Mini in the garage!

So, we pondered, what to do? Marginalized in our own society, we had to have some ability to fight back before out gadgets, a la Bartlett Finchley, came to get us? I no longer doubt our Mini’s been laughing at us behind our backs as we’ve struggled a couple of years post purchase with how to change the clock on the dashboard, save our favorite radio stations, lock and unlock the doors, interpret any sound or message issued by the car.

Personally, we love books and movies about AI devices approaching human status: 20001, Bicentennial Man, Robot and Frank, Her, Klara and the Sun and so on. We fully expect to be cared for by them as we near obsolescence. I’m sure we can all get along, and that they’ll even do the heavy lifting for us. What will we surrender of our individuality, our essence? We have to stick around, I guess, to find out.


Janet Garber is published in mainstream outlets (WSJ NYT, Working Women, as well as literary and university journals in addition to two novels (Dream Job, TheFrench Lover’s Wife) and two nonfiction works. She resides in the lower Hudson Valley with a hubby and several cats. She pesists in injecting humor into her work.