Monday, February 10, 2014
Not having fun yet
Our washing machine died, after 15 years of faithful service, and the new one arrived over the weekend. We bought the highly recommended model, using the new high efficiency/low water technology. Now I've run a couple of loads, and I'm still dubious about this whole machine.
Everything is automated. You do get to choose water temperature (after figuring out how to bypass the default programs) and spin speed (what's to choose? who cares whether it spins fast or only sort of fast?) but not water level (it senses how big your load is and gives you only what you need -- or rather, only what it thinks you need). The lid locks when you hit the start button; you have to know the secret workaround to open the lid and throw in that last sock that stayed behind in the basket while you were loading.
Part of my frustration is just that I hate to have to learn new routines and new operating systems. If I could have bought a machine identical to the one that just died, I would be a happy camper. And while I was feeling uncomfortable about the new washing machine, I recalled that I felt the same way about my new car a year ago, and every new computer operating system, and the new GPS device, and the DVR player.
I don't think it's because I'm getting old and crabby and unable to learn new tricks. I think it's because new stuff these days seems to work with the same premise: don't bother your pretty little head over how this works, just tell us what you want and we will deliver it. Tell us what temperature you want your car to be (no, you don't get to just turn the heat up or down). Choose one of ten different kinds of laundry load you have (no, you can't just ask for hot wash, warm rinse, low water).
We were away on a 1600-mile trip earlier this month in the year-old car and an unfamiliar icon lit up on the dashboard. Turns out it was a warning that we needed to change the oil. As we drove, the car sent us messages saying, ominously, that our oil had reached 15% of its life, then several hundred miles later, 10% of its life, then 5%. We couldn't tell how urgent this message was -- when we hit 0% would the car explode? Could we get back home before dealing with it?
My husband, the vice-president in charge of auto maintenance, was mad at himself because he hadn't thought to check the oil before we left home. He'd never changed the oil in the year we'd owned the car. We read the owner's manual to try to find out how often you were supposed to do that -- and there was no answer. Just wait till your dashboard tells you. And if it happens to tell you while you're driving through rural Tennessee, instead of yesterday at home when you could have easily gone to the jiffy lube, well, tough luck, sucker.
We ended up spending an hour getting the oil changed in Birmingham because we didn't know if we should take a chance on getting home. It was probably an overreaction; we probably could have driven for weeks and weeks with no problem. But how do you know? We googled "Honda oil change" and got a sanctimonious message to the effect that the car computer is constantly monitoring your mileage and the conditions in which you're driving, and therefore they won't say change the oil at 10,000 miles. Instead the dashboard message will come on whenever the time is right and you must obey. No such thing as planning ahead, no such thing as individual responsibility, just do what the machine tells you.
So the new washing machine knows how much water I want in the tub without me telling it. Is that comforting or not? What if I want to dye a bedspread? Will it know whether I want low-water (mottled) or high-water (uniform)? Will it let me stop the cycle with the tub full and go away till tomorrow while the dye strikes? Guess I'll have to wait and find out.
I read once that one of the reasons why we won World War II was that almost all the American GIs had lots of experience fixing cars (or in the case of the farm boys, not just cars but tractors, combines, pumps and a bazillion other kinds of machines). So when a tank broke down halfway across the Rheinland, the men could get it going again with a minimum of lost time. What happens today, when a tank breaks down halfway across Afghanistan? Do they have to wait for the computer diagnostician to arrive from Kabul? Or do they just abandon it by the side of the road?
I remember when sewing machines lasted forever (and a lot of people are still sewing on those decades-old Featherweights and Berninas). Routine maintenance, and even minor repairs, were within the purview of the owner; a little screwdriver came with the machine, and you could open it up and clear thread jams all by yourself. If you couldn't fix it, Roy at the sew-and-vac shop could get it up and running in no time. The new computerized models may sew fancy embroidery designs and automatically make all your quilting stitches the same length, but when the motherboard has a nervous breakdown you're up the creek without a paddle, and probably Roy is too.
In many ways, new technology is wonderful. But in other ways, is it turning us into a nation of zombies? Don't bother knowing how to read a map or get directions in advance, just do what the GPS tells you. (And if it loses the satellite signal while you're somewhere in the wilds of western Alabama, then..... what?)
I'm glad that new washing machines apparently do a better job of cleaning with less water and less electricity. But I want my machines to take orders from me, not the other way around. I want my machines to do the working, and I want me to do the thinking.