From Flintstones to Jetsons

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Several years ago, we decided to try leasing a new car instead of buying one.

There are several advantages to leasing over buying. A lot depends on a family’s financial situation and how many miles they drive each year.

So, after discussing it and crunching some numbers, Debbie and decided to lease. We have just completed our second 3-year lease cycle and last week we drove away from the dealership with a new car.

Oh, how things have changed.

It’s not a luxury car or an overly expensive car, but I now realize that without all the onboard computers, I don’t think I could even pull away from the curb.

It doesn’t use a standard key. The vehicle senses when I’m near the car and it allows me to start the engine and open the doors before I’m in the vehicle. The review mirror works like a camera and shows me everything that is around and near the vehicle.

There is a fancy-schmancy audio/information/entertainment system that boggles my mind. Any destination can be programmed into the onboard navigation system and the computer, using a satellite managed global positioning system, allows us to travel step-by-step from wherever we are to wherever we want to be.

Personally, I miss using my old raggedy Rand-McNally road atlas. I also think I preferred using a simple key that doesn’t know I am in my car until I stuck the key into the ignition.

Life, and all of our gadgets, have gotten far too complicated for my simple tastes.

A few months ago, I decided to simplify my life by getting rid of my laptop computer and downsizing to an iPad with a keyboard. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I still haven’t figured out how to use the iPad.

So, currently, I’m using the new iPad for some simple things, and my desktop computer for more complicated things and the nearly worn-out laptop is still being used for simple typing.

Whenever I call someone at the Geek Squad to ask them a question about one of these systems, they usually start by saying, “Oh, sure. That’s a very simple problem.”

Then they switch over to a new, unusual language that mixes English words in with numbers, letters, acronyms and gibberish that means something to them, but doesn’t mean a thing to my tired, old brain. What is really aggravating is that they soon seem to grow impatient with me because I don’t understand the strange computer language they are speaking.

I find myself longing for the good old days when all our equipment, machines and gizmos came with a simple operating device called an on-off switch. If they wanted to mix it up, they might install a button instead of a switch. At least it was easy to figure out and I didn’t need to call someone at the Geek Squad for advice.

For a few years, starting in 1962, there was a primetime cartoon series on television called “The Jetsons.” George Jetson and his family were introduced to show all of us early TV viewers the opposite of what the popular cartoon series, “The Flintstones” depicted as life in the stone age.

George and Jane Jetson, with their daughter Judy and their boy Elroy, modeled a future that was designed to be unimaginably complex. Their home (which looked like the Space Needle) was totally computerized. Each of their appliances had a voice and mind of its own. George could adjust lights, water and living room curtains merely using the sound of his voice.

What is scary to me is that we can now do all of that with an internet system that goes by the name of Alexa. All you need to do is say “Alexa, turn off the television, open the curtains and start the coffee pot.” By whatever magic makes computers work, our home systems now can take orders from Alexa and carry out your wishes.

Since I am still having trouble getting my iPad to accept my requests, I am absolutely thankful that all of our household appliances don’t need to be connected and operated using my sub-marginal computer expertise.

I am perfectly content to flip an on-off switch, push a button or even turn a knob. If I yell out for Alexa… nothing happens. I am just fine with that.

Alexa would probably make me memorize at least a dozen new passwords. If I have to remember any more passwords, I’m afraid my brain might explode.

I think I prefer the Flintstone past to the Jetson future.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist