Trivial Pursuits

I don’t see a lot of commentary on how technology has aided older people. I’m not talking about specific technologies aimed at senior citizens, which are great, of course. Medical technology in particular.

I mean technology in general, which overall shoots for speed and efficiency, just when a bunch of us are losing both. And the benefits line up pretty well with our deficiencies, which are mostly sensory. As our vision degrades, high-definition everything makes a big difference. Audio clarity has taken huge leaps, not to mention the ubiquity of closed-captioning (it’s now on by default here in this house).

There are plenty of smartphone tricks to augment our lives, too, the most prominent for me being the ability to bypass the memory glitches. Reminders and timers, all the way down.

Although, as we all know, there’s a hitch in this, that being the need to remember to set a timer. It’s just so complicated.

I had an incident last night, one I can’t quite relate to a senior moment, although feel free. I was a timer fool, baking communion bread for a chapel service my wife was leading this morning as well as getting her dinner ready, keeping an eye on her commute so I could pick her up at the bus stop, and binge-watching episodes of an old TV show I’d already seen and, of course, mostly forgotten.

Tricky timing always gins up anxiety in me, although yesterday was pretty smooth. Dinner was ready and my second rise had finished by the time I delivered my wife safely home, and I preheated the oven and then stuck in the bread dough. A couple of hours later, after more watching of above TV show, I headed for bed, stopping to take a big whiff of bread goodness-smell wafting through the house.

A couple of hours later, you understand.

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After over 20 years of baking bread, I’ve surely made every mistake one can make in this pretty simple process. I don’t remember leaving a loaf in the oven for two hours, though. The result was predictable and (we assume) inedible.

Because I forgot to set a timer, then forgot I forgot. Makes me worry a little about space heaters now. Not to mention driving.

I listened to a short interview with Dustin Hoffman the other day. I like his voice a lot; 50 years after The Graduate, it now has less of that mouthful-of-marbles sound but is still so familiar and interesting. As was he, in a small way, answering questions about his career in thoughtful phrases, occasionally halting while his brain caught up.

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And occasionally he grasped for a stray word, something we all do, but Dustin Hoffman is now 80. I listened for this intently, then, and made my clinical assessment: pretty normal, I’d say. We start to lose things, we all do, and eventually it becomes a joke, these memory burps. Thus timers and reminders.

Hoffman stars in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which opens today in theaters and on Netflix, which is also a technology boon I love. I’m still drawn to the theatrical experience, maybe more so now that it’s much rarer and competing with easier options. I like the little thrill of anticipation, planning, and experience of seeing a new film in the theater.

But it’s a hassle, and different than it was, and this immediate gratification is…gratifying. I just listened to Dustin, got the lowdown on Noah Baumbach’s latest (I’m a big Baumbach fan), thought I’d like to see it, and boom. It comes out today, and I can watch it anytime. Starting now. I’m loving the future.

In fact, when I said efficiency up there? I think I was really talking about convenience.

This convenience is a sword with at least two edges. It’s occurred to me many times that, in an emergency I don’t really want to imagine, I know my wife’s cell phone number and that’s it. Not my daughter’s, not my son’s. Not my mother’s landline, or any other relatives. I can call my wife or 911, that’s about it, without a contact list. Very convenient until it’s not.

And there are plenty of other examples, but still. Faster is often better, and just much nicer. And, often, older than we think. Microwave ovens started creeping into households about the same time that The Graduate premiered, changing the ways we boil water and make popcorn forever.

Inexpensive air travel, remote controls, instant access to everything: the bells and whistles are louder and shinier, but the essence is old hat. We like quicker.

Two of my favorite time-saving technologies have also been around a while. Both, in fact, came to me via my daughter, and both involve the kitchen.

It took only a week in her household for me to become a sous vide fan, although that technology (or ideology, maybe) is pretty old. It’s just a form of slow cooking, done in a pot of hot water that maintains a steady temperature, the temperature we want our food to reach. Technology has just made it easier to do, and several times a week I’ve got my immersion circulator humming along, cooking up perfect burgers, steaks, fish, chicken, you name it, you can sous vide it. Probably.

And I got enamored of the Aeropress at her house a few years ago. It’s just a simplified, inexpensive French press, and it makes a great cup. I was a non- and then reluctant coffee drinker for most of my life, mostly because I don’t care much for bitter. Aeropress takes the bitter out, and I use it every morning.

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In the past few months, this simple plastic device stopped working so well, something that baffled me. Eventually I figured out that the rubber stopper thingy had somehow gotten smaller, producing less of a seal and leaving lots of liquid behind. I prefer my coffee in liquid form (I’m open to options), and this made a huge mess anyway. After our recent trip to Texas, I got envious for the smooth, unmessy Aeropress experience, and eventually I just ordered a new one.

And I had the opposite problem from the get-go. Now, the seal was so solid, so tight, that I was battling vacuum every morning, having to back up and press again and again, fighting trapped air. This made no sense, until it did.

A year or so ago, I bought a metal, reuseable coffee filter for the Aeropress. Seemed like a no-brainer, and it worked fine.

But that was the only variable, and it turned out to be the culprit. Somehow that filter had become less permeable, and I assume it eventually created the situation in which the apparatus stopped working well, and the new version never got there. I swapped out for a paper filter and voila, easy-peasy.

So now, I get a great cup of coffee every time. Boil some water, pour it over, press, and drink.

Assuming I remember that I started heating the water. Which, as it turns out, I almost never do. I have an app for that, actually, but again…

Finally, I note that today is the second anniversary of the Seattle premiere of Winning Dad, a pretty meaningless anniversary except that it was an exceptional night. Fun, moving, and ultimately ephemeral.

But it exists, it was something I did, I’m glad for the experience, and I assume I’ll never forget it. That’s an iffy proposition, given that I’ll also be 80 in just 21 years, but I’m thinking I won’t need my phone to remind me.

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Chuck SigarsComment