Around the Bend: ‘Touch’ of technology doesn’t help

Not long ago, I received a free hand-me-down iPod Touch. I was thrilled, not only because it had originally retailed for about $200 but also because I had never owned such a sleek, technologically advanced gadget. (Keep in mind I think remote car starters are magic; I thrill easily.)
But once I got over the simple elegance of the smooth flat screen, I honestly couldn’t think of a single reason to have it.
“What?” my Apple-loving co-worker said, clutching his iPhone to his chest. “It will change your life with myriad ingenious productivity-enhancing tools. And you can play Angry Birds.”
He steered me to Apple’s “app” store, a website that offers thousands of free or inexpensive programs. These range from the frivolous, like the calculator, to the genuinely useful, like the one that gives you up-to-date movie times at every theater in Singapore.
Not knowing my way around the touch screen, I downloaded quite a few apps by accident. I don’t care to receive a Mariah Carey quote of the day or read reviews of sushi bars in the greater Atlanta area. But since I haven’t learned how to uninstall apps, I’m stuck with them.
I found only three that interested me.
The first was a to-do list creator. I love lists, and I figured I’d be more motivated to get things done if I could check them off by tapping the touch screen. This is the same mentality that makes people think they can organize their stuff just by buying pretty plastic bins, so I knew it had to work.
But the to-do list app fell short. I found typing the list more time-consuming than simply scribbling it on the back of the nearest property tax bill. And the iPod was no more effective than a handwritten list when left at home on the table — although it was less likely to be inadvertently recycled.
And last, my inability to grasp the touch screen interface left me floundering. I swiped and tapped like mad to try to navigate through my to-do’s and still never found my master list. On the bright side, I managed to level up in Angry Birds without even realizing I was playing.
The second app was a calorie counter. I’ve never counted calories, but given the number of such apps I found, it seemed like the popular thing to do. Tracking every bite that went into my mouth certainly heightened my awareness of my food choices. It also, however, caused me to think about eating all the time.
The app itself worked fine. But I gained two pounds in a week.
Last, I chose a grocery list app. The program held a vast database of products to streamline list making, but it was clearly geared to Anytown, USA, rather than to the Raymond homestead. While the database included every brand of frozen pizza made, it omitted choices for things like 50-pound bags of chicken feed.
It also didn’t accept custom entries, so I had to create a workaround by typing in the most similar word I could find in the database. The closest I could get to “canning lids,” for instance, was “canned peaches.” For “pectin,” I had to enter “pecans.” By the time I got to the store, I had forgotten what I had actually intended to buy and had to resort to wild guesses. (I have no way to make jam this weekend, but the pantry is well stocked with cannellini beans and pecorino cheese.)
Worse, in the middle of my shopping trip the iPod alerted me that its battery was about to die. I panicked, sprinting through the store, flinging items into the cart as I marked them off the list, careening into the checkout line just as the screen went dark.
This is not my idea of productivity enhancement.
I still believe the iPod is a beautiful and versatile device; but (a) I need to hire a first-grader to teach me how to use it and (b) someone has to develop apps for my lifestyle. For example, I’d like an app that can tell me where my hens are secretly laying their eggs or one with tips on how to remove the burdocks from a sheep that currently looks like a giant ball of Velcro on stilts.
Until Apple releases apps like that, I’ll work on my skills by using my iPod to help others. So save yourself $200 and give me a call. If nothing else, I can point you to the best darn sushi bar in Atlanta.

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