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Silver Threads: High-tech TV hits low-tech household

EDITOR’S NOTE: NolaVie is reposting a series of stories this week to celebrate its birthday, and to demonstrate the diversity of material published on the website in its first year.

The other day my husband and I were forced to retire our 1995-model television set and replace it with one that — as our grandsons would say — is totally awesome.

And that’s just the right description for this complicated piece of technology. Picture me, staggered back, hand fanning my brow, totally thrown by the mystery and grandeur of it all.

Heck, I remember when television screens, filled with “snow” flurries so thick you could hardly make out the visage of Jack Benny or Milton Berle, were no bigger than sheets of typing paper. (By the way, who types on paper anymore? What DO they call those 8x10s? But I digress.) All you did was plug ’em in, adjust the rabbit ears, walk up and select the channel you wanted to watch, and you were good to go.

Now, I cope pretty well with several essential technologies. My computer is expected to do a modest number of things: send and receive a limited amount of email; play spider solitaire and Scrabble; and buy mystery novels, shoes and airline tickets. I can actually pick out my seats and book flights online. And, oh yes, I’ve become a fan of YouTube, visiting it occasionally to enjoy — one more time — watching Susan Boyle blow Simon and Piers away on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

My cell phone is used to make and receive calls, write myself an occasional note, and set a wake-up alarm, which I find easier than tussling with my complicated clock radio. I can also take a photo and use it as “wallpaper,” but as for putting it on my computer — I don’t go there.

At age 75, I’m happy with my limited but useful mastery of technology. Or, make that WAS happy until our complicated new TV set arrived. An early Christmas present from us to us.

First, there was the programming. You can’t just change channels. The ones you are going to want to watch have to be “programmed” in. Then you have to go into a “menu” that has dozens of things on it and tell it how much of the screen you want the TV image to cover, how much contrast or brightness you desire, what mix of sound you want — am I making sense here? — whether you want to watch high definition or not. This I couldn’t decide because if I can’t compare HD and LD side by side, how can I know?

A big problem arose: The old unit had been rigged up to play through speakers next to an easy chair and we thought it would just be a matter of plugging them in here and there. Wrong. It took two sets of young relatives several weeks to solve that. (It defied an easy solution, and they can’t just LIVE at your house.)

Next problem: I couldn’t get to my DVR stuff until the third group of techie kin visited. (We’ve worn this accommodating bunch out; any future problems and we’ll have to ante up and hire some help.)

Potential problem: The thought of even trying to use my DVD player scares me. I never had an easy time with it, and although my 13-year-old grandson has tried valiantly to explain, I forget about half an hour after he goes home and just push buttons until the right thing happens — or not.

You know there’s a point here, and it’s this: Am I doddering or just more than a tad dumb?

My daddy — born in 1904 — grew up riding a horse from the farm to the general store, but he sure learned how to drive a car when he got hold of one. What’s the difference here? If computers are so much more complicated than mere mechanical devices, how come kids can just breeze along with them?

Would Daddy have had trouble learning to drive a car had he been 66 instead of 16 when he got one? The experts would probably tell me that, yes, it does matter how old you are when you learn to do something, and, yes, computers are much more complicated than motors. (I know, there are computers in cars now and, hey, look for one in your Maytag soon.)

One of my favorite TV commercials — and I don’t watch many, or won’t if I ever get my DVR online again — is the one that shows a cute little girl taking pictures, putting them on a computer and doing what she calls “making them better.” She pulls the cursor around, photo-shopping here and there, and then announces proudly, “I’m four and a half.”

Bettye Anding is the former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Silver Threads addresses life among seniors in New Orleans. Email comments to her at


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