I have seen my parents for a day and an hour since last August – a longer stint than a lot of people, for which I was enormously grateful. But this means that for the rest of our communications we rely on phones and computers. This presents a problem, since at least two out of the three of us are catastrophic with technology.
Wobbly internet connections, lost headphones, a computer on the blink, a phone on its last legs, an inability to find the “turn microphone on” icon, one participant in landscape and the other in portrait – it feels like virtually no communication goes smoothly. On a good day, one can take this sort of niggle in one’s stride. But good days have been hard to come by of late. Now, on an average day, the sight of a grandparent taking up a small corner of the screen while the rest of it is focused on two books and a brass light fitting, while the picture slowly turns to pixels and the sound cuts off, can prod the nerves like nothing else.
Family calls have increased in frequency since the start of the epidemic, partly in an attempt to replace the face to face contact we have lost, and partly to support each other through the anxieties of this difficult time – but occasionally it feels like the calls themselves, the sheer admin and faff of staying in touch, cause their fair share of that anxiety.
It isn’t only calls, virtually all interactions have now shifted online, meaning that an interaction with a loved one is carried out in the same way as a doctor’s appointment or a work meeting. This sheer relentlessness only compounds the agony for the technophobe, who can never be truly at ease where machines and savvy are required.
I am that technophobe: I struggle along, like most other people, managing to chat online, and work out how to download the odd app, but the reality is that I lag behind my peers, and grapple with perfectly simple tasks. I can’t work the online banking app, can’t work out podcasts, can’t torrent, and I regularly break or lose my phone.
The gadgets themselves, the machines that I perceive as failing me, feel like enemies, soldiers lined up against me, seething bearers of a dreadful curse. It’s a torturous relationship, whereby I am at the mercy of technology – the sheer fear of being cut off, of being excommunicated, is immense. My lassitude is overwhelming, yet I cannot look away for too long, for fear of missing out on what I need so much – human contact.
That contact, in full often goes like this: Me tugging on my ear-lobe and mouthing “I can’t hear you”, and then mouthing “I can’t … you haven’t … I’ll call you”, and then miming hanging up a landline receiver and mouthing, “Hang up and I’ll call you”, and then hanging up, and being immediately phoned again with exactly the same result.
On top of this is the very natural stress and irritation that everybody feels during the pandemic. But my woes are, of course, distinct from much more concerning problems that affect the poor and elderly, whose unequal access to technology has a significant impact on mental health and loneliness. Tech for the technophobes means even the sweetest moments become those of succour, the most casual interactions feel like failures. These mini battles are fought and lost, and then fought again the next day.