A friend of mine once defined technology as "that which doesn't quite work."
When it works all the time, he said, it's an appliance. Refrigerators used to be technology. Now they're appliances. Computers, though - definitely technology.
I thought about this a great deal this morning, as I spent nearly two hours on the phone with tech support.
The task itself was fairly simple. I am going to be teaching on-line this coming year. The institution which has hired me to do this is switching over their email system from one where the email is kept on their own servers to one which will be hosted by gmail. My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to set up a new account with the gmail system and then get my old email over from the one to the other account.
They even had a handy 31-step program to guide me through the process. I suppose that alone should have been a warning sign. Great googly moogly, folks, you can reform an alcoholic in only 12.
I got about halfway through the process on my own before coming to a crashing halt and resorting to tech support. They're there 24/7, according to the Faculty Candidate Handbook, and we are encouraged to make use of them. I'm sure somewhere in the Tech Support Handbook is a warning to prospective tech people that such advice is in the Faculty Candidate Handbook, and a stern injunction regarding the use of sarcasm during such calls. It's probably written in red.
So I called, and a friendly man named Jason eventually came on to help me through this.
He may still be talking about it with his tech support buddies, drowning their sorrows in Guinness Stout. But there was no sarcasm with me, so I know he was well trained.
We resolved the rest of the 31 steps fairly quickly, but - and here's the part where technology comes into play - it didn't quite work. In theory, I could download my emails to my own computer. In practice, my email program would admit to having received emails, but refused to show them to me.
I found this rather insulting.
So we worked at this for a while, Jason and I. We rebooted. We jiggered and tweaked.
There was a short interlude during this process while I attended to a minor household crisis that first made itself known to me when Tabitha came in with a white washcloth stained bright red. She must have seen the look on my face and hurriedly made it clear that this was paint - that Lauren had decided to move some red acrylic paint from one bottle to another (why? I don't know why. I thought about asking, but could not think of a single answer to that question that would comfort me in any way, and so did not) and had spilled it all over the bathroom sink, but they had cleaned it up now. Fortunately Jason must have kids, as he did not mind me rinsing out the washcloth - eventually returned to "mostly white" - before getting back to the problem.
We continued to fiddle and try alternate solutions.
After a while, the irony of me being a faculty candidate for on-line teaching and having this sort of difficulty became readily apparent, though Jason was kind enough not to make too much of a big deal about it. Hey - the institution only asked me if I was interested in technology. They didn't ask if I was any good at it.
In the end, Jason and I simply ran out of things to try.
It still doesn't quite work.