Dirty Pretty Things

evil-appleI hate having to explain technology. I can barely make it make sense to myself, so having to do that for anyone – correction, to anyone over the age of say, fifty, is torture. The best torture device in my opinion is the iPhone. Ooooh the iPhone. (Well, anything Apple for that matter.) Sometimes I feel like a one-woman Genius Bar. Except there ain’t nothing genius about me and the only bar I can be reliably associated with is the obvious kind. Never mind that, I’m still expected to be available on demand to answer the whys and why nots and wherefores of the iPhone.


All these past years that hang around in my memory like a phantom limb, I’ve never had reason to feel like that girl in Dirty Pretty Things. There’s a scene in that movie which I’ll never forget, where this little Somali girl in London is translating into Somali for her father what a doctor is saying to him in English about an infection that is killing him. Or to feel like my coworker who told me that she practically raised herself since her parents’ English was so poor when they immigrated to Toronto.

I’ve never felt that my parents’ very lives and/or the soundness of my upbringing depended on my English language skills. No, their English was fine enough thank you very much. They belonged to that set that had the (what I hope was un-self-conscious) habit of peppering their Amharic conversations with English words and phrases, which to me sounded like the peak of sophistication. I’m pretty sure I learned the meaning of “of course” long before I set foot in any kind of school.

Then we migrate and, not right away but slowly by slowly, two versions of English begin to assert themselves in the household. The one of the parents generation, logical and civilized, learned from books, lectures and honed in logical and civilized conversations. And the one of my generation learned from talk shows and movies and song lyrics and magazines and altered states. Still, there’s no sign of total communication breakdown…yet. Not even when VHS becomes DVD, stick shift becomes automatic, headphones replace sound, and phones go from rotary to touch-tone, then cordless, then mobile. At most, the changes, such as the vibrate function, are amusing. Who didn’t like a little jolt with every phone call? Or they are something to brag about. Like a world phone, or rather a “woRLED” phone (Amharic speakers can so hear this).

Then the iPhone happened.

And no amount of English, book or street, could exorcise this possessed thing.

Notice I’m not even touching the possibility of using Amharic.

Of course, it’s not fair to blame it all on the iPhone or Apple. It’s just a neat catch-all term for all baffling new technology.

So now, every time the folks come over from across the water for a visit there’s guaranteed to have been some sort of issue with the “iPhone” that’s been nagging at them for months that they expect you (in this case, me the Genius Bartenderess) is expected to solve/explain.

Here’s where it gets really sticky. Because of this “respect” thing which still clings to the personalities we choose to display in from of our makers, at no time am I allowed to bruise the older person’s ego, while doing said troubleshooting, by directly or indirectly implying that you’re just not getting it and you probably never will and even if you do tomorrow you will ask me the same exact question forget tomorrow you’ll probably ask me the same exact question six minutes from now and what on earth are you doing with a latest-generation [insert brand name] anywayIC0612_Tech-resize-380x300

Oh no, I have to be a model teacher: infinite of patience, who can “lower” herself to the level of her students who, let’s face it, are at pre-K level when it comes to the subject matter at hand, which, if true-truth be told, I only have a very slippery grasp of myself. It also doesn’t help that I have been an actual teacher at one time, so I’m expected to be good at this knowledge-imparting business.

So, there I am, a model (fake) teacher with the worst kind of student who secretly (or not so secretly) believes s/he knows more than me, who interrupts, who does not respond to any kind of disciplinary action whatsoever, who takes no notes, who pretends comprehension and who, yes, will ask the same question six minutes from now guaranteed, and who persists in logic-defying challenges even when it’s time for recess.

Sample challenge: How can you be so sure this phone is an iPhone 3? What if it’s an iPhone 4? You can’t know just by looking at it.

Talk about lives hanging in the balance… Picture-1-11

Brings me to my pre-old-age resolution: from here on out, I will aim to become at least aware of, if not a full user of, every new technology that comes out so that it doesn’t leave me gob smacked when it – whatever currently inconceivable thing that the babies of today will be using decades from now – arrives on the scene. So that I don’t submit my own or others’ offspring to the same torture of breaking it down from me while secretly resenting the fact that all the time I thought I was “with it”, “it” had long ago left me in the dust.

HAH! Not.Being “with it” takes so much effort, and staying “with it” even more so. It is easier to just regress. I’ve already deleted, actually deleted not just deactivated (yes, it’s possible) my Facebook account (profile envy, long story). So why stop there? I should cancel my cellphone service with the Evil Rogers Empire and go strictly land-line (a rotary complete with squiggly cord and safety lock and actual key), start a VHS collection, dust off my cassette tapes, get a letter-writing kit, go to the library catalogue every time I get curious about something. Oh, and buy a foldout map for my travels, a definite must have.

Now that’s genius.

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