Connections: Live and Learn

Over the years, I’ve tended to lean on others to decipher even the most important fine print

A career-guidance test we took in high school that supposedly scientifically assessed students’ personal characteristics had me ranking high on what was called persuasiveness. The suggestion was that I would make a good lawyer.

With the benefit of hindsight, however, I think it’s a good thing I didn’t follow through on that career advice: What sort lawyer is too impatient to wade through fine print, as I’ve always been?

Even though I liked writing as a teenager, I never imagined that I would one day find myself trying to persuade readers to do this or think that by what I wrote in print. You might say I lucked out where professions are concerned when I married into the East Hampton Star family. Eventually, and for more than 20 years, I put my persuasiveness to the test by writing editorials, attempting to affect readers’ opinions, and through them the body politic.

Over the years, I’ve tended to lean on others to decipher even the most important fine print. Legal documents? Financial paperwork? Contracts? Manuals for electronic devises or coffee makers? Like many of us, I would much rather learn by doing — or by attempting.

Of course, that doesn’t always work. Take Facebook, for example.

I know you “friend” people and they can friend you, but I have no idea why I am alerted every day to massive amounts of posts from people I hardly know. Are these friends of friends? I am sure it would be possible to turn off these notifications, if I only had the patience to wade into the dreaded how-to settings pages. And why do I get photos and videos and links to various sites on the Internet from people I have never met at all and who appear to have no connection to my Facebook friends, either? It remains a mystery.

On the Jitney recently, I found myself breaking a personal rule against idle chatter. I had shut down my computer, fearing that it would lose battery power, and was reading The New York Times. As I folded and unfolded the pages awkwardly, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was reading The Times, too, but on a small bright screen. Before we reached 39th Street, where we both got off, she had shown me her MacBook Air.  

This seatmate would have been off the charts on that persuasiveness test. Unlike my repurposed and clunky laptop, her MacBook Air displayed text that was big, bright, and legible; unlike mine, her computer’s battery, she said, would last all day. She showed me a few of the apps on it, including DuLingo, which helps you learn a new language by actually hearing it. I would like one of those MacBook Airs. (And my family can consider this a hint, hint for my upcoming Big Birthday in September.)

What really impressed me, though, was this friendly and tech-savvy strang­er’s advice on how to skip reading all the boring words in how-to manuals. One just asks Google a question and gets the answer, she said. How is it possible that I had never tried this before?

“How do I get rid of Facebook notifications?” I asked Google. A thousand answers popped up immediately.

By the time we got off the bus, we had agreed to friend each other, and I felt a new dawn on the horizon. If I can ditch all the fine-print instructions in life by asking direct questions to Google, maybe it will turn out I’m not so technically inept, after all. Maybe I am, in fact, tech-proficient enough to deserve a MacBook Air.