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SHAWN HUBLER

My '90s House of Horrors

January 23, 1998|SHAWN HUBLER

It is 2:30 in the morning. Always 2:30. And always, we are deeply asleep. It enters our dreams, perhaps as a bird peeping or a cricket chirping. The closer we get to consciousness, the louder it sounds.

Twee-tweet! Twee-tweet!

Eyes closed, we flail at the night stand. Twee-tweet! No, not the bedside clock. No, not the phone. The words "smoke alarm" form themselves and then un-form--twee-tweet!--and now we are awake. And now we are remembering.

And now we are muttering things that this, a family newspaper, cannot print.

Because it is that pager. That #%&@)*@ pager. Going off again in the middle of the night. And why is it going off? Oh, not an emergency. Not a summons. No, it has activated its automatic shut-off feature, and it just wanted to let us know.

Just wanted to let us know because it's that kind of pager. A sensitive '90s kind of pager that can't even shut itself off without being "inclusive," without getting "buy-in" from "the team." A full-service pager that can do just about everything but squeeze your orange juice in the morning and, boy, don't we just know it.

A state-of-the-art little pest that squeals: "Hey! I'm the future! Look! Look! Look at ME!!!"

*

Until very recently, we sneered at people who worried about progress. We had no time for Luddites with dire warnings about man's infatuation with technology. You'll be sorry, they'd say--sorry you threw away that manual typewriter, sorry you bought that car with the computer in its engine, sorry your kid got that souped-up calculator. And we'd laugh, ha-ha, and be as un-sorry as a modern suburban family could be.

Shawn's House O' Gizmos, that was our address. You name it, we had it. Pocket spell-checkers. Computerized Barbie dolls. Tamagotchis up the, uh, tamagotchi. So many cell phones that my husband once called me car-to-car on the San Bernardino Freeway to tell me that if I wasn't going to go any faster than 55 mph, I should get out of the fast lane, for Pete's sake, sweetie, sheesh.

Then, little by little, the conveniences grew inconvenient. Each gadget, it turned out, was equipped with its own insidious attention-getting device. The VCR couldn't be programmed without a remote control that kept disappearing. The computer nagged like a schoolmarm, asking whether you really really meant it when you tried to turn it off.

There was the trivia-happy wristwatch-pager that beeped our teenager in the middle of biology to let her know that, just FYI, the Dow was off by 20 points. And the little screen at the health club that began augmenting the time and temperature with incessant news bulletins and factoids, so that you couldn't mount a Stairmaster without a dose of this-just-in-from-Bosnia.

Slowly it dawned on us: The problem with technology is not that it is like some cultural Frankenstein monster. No, it's worse. It's that technology is like a show-offy kid.

It wants you to notice it. Think about it. Give it positive reinforcement. Wake up at 2:30 in the morning and watch it do insufferable little tricks.

*

Of course this could all be dismissed as one sad woman's rantings. Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing. Our technology is, after all, only a reflection of the minds that create it, only more evidence of how far we have all evolved as human beings.

Surely we can train ourselves to be good masters. Surely we can look at a bleating pager and just say no. Surely only a wimp would let herself be sucked in by a nattering beeper or hypnotized by a headline in a box over the weight machines.

But mark my words: When you get to the future and find yourself begging your TV to go play outside with the answering machine for just five minutes so you can just at least take a bath in peace, don't say nobody warned you about the comeuppance that awaits techno-maniacs in the 21st century.

In the meantime, here at House O' Gizmos, we plan to hunker down with some technological readings from those postindusrial gurus, Dr. Spock and T. Berry Brazelton. I may even write my own guidebook, sure to be a bestseller: "What to Expect When You're Expecting a New Machine."

Shawn Hubler's e-mail address is shawn.hubler@latimes.com.

The problem with technology is not that it is like some cultural Frankenstein monster. No, it's worse. It's that technology is like a show-offy kid. It wants you to notice it. Think about it. Give it positive reinforcement. Wake up at 2:30 in the morning and watch it do insufferable little tricks.

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