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.


  1. Same here. (I'm still using my great-great-grandmother's treadle machine, built, according to the little ink stamp on the underside of the table, in 1874.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  2. I, also, do not like anything"new". I would not be buying the new washing machine. My repair guy told me to keep repairing the 26 year old one I have because he can get parts for it--and he can't always get parts (in a timely fashion) for the new ones. The new refrigerator repair guy--I bought a new fridge--told me--when the big stuff breaks--I get to buy another new fridge or wait 2 months for the part to arrive.

    I have a Honda and they change my oil with every annual checkup. Whether it's ready to be changed or not. One day, on the way to work, the car told me my tires were dangerously under inflated. All the way to work I waited for the car to shut itself OFF.

  3. I do so agree! My husband is desperately keeping my current washing machine going because it seems to be the last model that takes in hot water - and as we have solar panels to heat the water we don't want a new machine to ignore that and take in cold to heat by itself.

  4. I went through the same thing, with the new washer. I have found one of the unexpected and definitely undesirable side effects is that I do a lot more ironing. It spins so fast that the clothes are mashed into the drum and indelibly wrinkled. But they dry very fast! Grrr.

    1. so now I know who cares whether it spins fast or not so fast!

    2. Yup. I have yet to experiment with the slower spin setting, as you noted, it's hard to override the machine's wishes!

  5. I got a newer washing machine about two years ago, and tried to stop the machine and soak something in it before washing it (can't remember what it was). It didn't like that option, it ended up emptying the machine of all water after about 15 minutes and starting the whole cycle all over again.

    You are so right about machines doing things for people now--I work at a university and the students who enter each year are more helpless than the ones from the previous year.

  6. YES!!! Why 'fix' what isn't broken? I don't want new 'features'. I just want what I have to continue working in a reliable manner. We had to get a new car when the old one's electrical was going. Now we have a car where you have buttons for everything. Can't just turn a know to increase heat. And so I don't change anything because looking away from the road and trying to find what button to push is dangerous. May as well be texting.

    Ironically, my day job is related to IT so I get what I consider to be useless change all the time. We just had to change all the PCs over to the latest operating system, and thus everyone got the new Outlook, new Word, etc. I used to be super efficient at things. Had shortcuts all set up for what I did. My toolbar was perfect. Now I am re-learning where they put all the commands, there's no toolbar, its a 'ribbon'.Whatever. Why not just let people be efficient? They're only changing it to get more money.

    It's definitely a love/hate with the tech stuff. Love the netweb.

  7. My thoughts exactly. I hate change for the sake of change and I REALLY hate change when it makes us feel more helpless and frustrated.

  8. I relate to the oil change scenario...when our Honda Pilot was new, we were told to let the oil go all the way to 0% and then get it changed. After this first time, change when it got to 15% or below. Of course, that first time came on a trip to another state, but a Honda dealer there took care of it. Letting it go to zero sounded dangerous to me, but I had to relinquish my authority to the magic car brain.
    Martha Ginn

  9. I live in a rural area and in winter the power is likely to go out more than once. We had to search far and wide for a stove that could be lit manually if there was no electricity to power the electronic ignition. Our neighbours know they can finish baking their cake if there is a power outage, so we get a visit, and cake