My wife and I got my mother a Tivo DVR this Christmas. It was a calculated risk.
My mother is in her 80’s and doesn’t like learning to use new stuff. On the other hand, she has a VCR which she manages to use, but she gets confused about the whole tune-the-TV v.s. tune-the-VCR issue, and sometimes she uses the wrong remote or gets some part of the system (TV, VCR, remote) into a state where she doesn’t understand what’s happening.
Our thinking was that the Tivo system is simpler. A single remote controls everything, and it doesn’t allow you to get into any difficult situations. It avoids the confusion inherent in tuning both the TV and the VCR. The basic functions are pretty simple.
At least that was the theory, but we stopped in on my parents yesterday, and now I’m not so sure. My mother is having trouble with the concept. She comes from a time before mice and menus, before everything was a computer. She comes from a time when your tools didn’t have a mind of their own.
We knew all that, of course, but we thought she could probably puzzle it out anyway. (After all, my mother used be a bookkeeper, which meant she could run one of these. How hard could a Tivo be?) My gut reaction is that she’s just resisting the change, but she’ll like it once she gets used to it.
Meanwhile, a few weeks ago we bought an alarm system and remote starter for the RAV4. While driving to see my parents, I noticed the alarm’s key-fob remote control beeping a few times in my pants pocket. My leg was pressed against a part of the car and it was pressing the buttons. That’s happened before with every alarm I had, so I didn’t think much about it.
When I got out of the car, however, the remote control didn’t work anymore. The signal LED flickered, and I could hear the remote beeping, but the car didn’t respond at all. I had to leave the alarm off and lock the doors the old-fashioned way.
My working theory was that I had accidentally pressed the buttons too much, and the alarm control module had decided to ignore my remote. I don’t know if car alarms actually have such a feature, but I know that computer network applications do things like that all the time: When they receive too many spurious requests from another node, they decide for reasons of efficiency or security to lock it out and ignore it. The effect usually wears off after a while to allow for the possibility that the misbehaving node has been fixed.
When we left my parents place several hours later, my wife’s remote worked fine, but the car was still ignoring mine, which shot down my theory.
I thought about it some more on the way home. Alarm remotes have to be registered with the control module in the car before they’ll work. Could the control module somehow have forgotten about my remote? That seemed possible, but unlikely. Computer failures are rarely so specific and clean. Whatever was going on, the alarm system was doing what it was supposed to do. But what did it think it was doing?
It came to me as I was crossing the parking lot at home. I’d bought one of the more featureful systems, and I remembered something I’d read in the instruction manual: The system could be programmed to allow one remote control to work with two cars.
I dug up the manual and found the section that explained the multi-car control capability. It explained how to tell which car the remote was set for, and sure enough, it was sending signals for car number 2. I punched in the sequence that switched it back to car number 1, and everything was working again.
I think I just got a taste of how my mother feels in this new high-tech world. I wonder if someday I’ll be too old to adapt to the technology—if someday I’ll be remembering the good old days while eyeing the new household matter transmutator with unease…