So what’s the deal with phone books these days? The phone book that arrives every year for Gloucester is all business, no more residential. Practically useless for anything. No one you know is in there anymore. So we’re forced onto whitepages.com or similar websites to look up a number. Half the time, it’s there among 7 gazillion other folks of that name all across the country. The other half the time, it’s not there at all. Often, the site tells you to subscribe, join up or register in order to get the number. “Oh we’ve got it!,” the site claims, but “you have to sign up.” Sheesh.
Worse, it asks for your password and user name from Google or whomever, as if you knew it. Then you dig out your list of passwords — fading list, penciled on paper from years ago — to squint through the info. Once retrieved and entered, they tell you it’s invalid, would you like to set a new password? NO! I’m 10 minutes into this already. Do you think it might be such a hassle so as to encourage you to use 411 information at, like $2.72 each info request? Being a cheapskate, like me, you don’t do that and you’re back to square one.
If only I had saved my last residential book from four years ago — who knew they would be so valuable? Folks in Gloucester mostly stay in their old houses, and not move around much, so they have the same old number. They would be in the book from four years ago and beyond. Cell numbers aren’t in the old books, so that has removed a bunch of landlines from the listings. The infamous “nosy book” the city maintains — and sells — is probably a better resource these days. The phone book is useless.
There is fine print in the front of the business phone book they do send you, mentioning that everyone has a right to order a residential book if they call this certain number. Hoorah, you might think, but don’t buy the champagne yet. The book they send is called Boston North and has listings from every town from Bedford north, but not Gloucester or most of Cape Ann. Our landline number wasn’t in there, for example ... nor was the number I had been trying to look up, originally.
New things aren’t necessarily better than old things. The electric windows in your car, for example, used to go up or down as per your command. But surprise! many new cars have the automatic all-up or all-down feature that speeds the pane all the way down without holding the button. But you can’t stop it halfway down. If you press up to stop it or go back to a precise point, no, it ignores you and goes all up, closed. D’oh! Three repeated tries tells you you no longer matter in these decisions — the machine and its designers’ designs have taken over. It’s all or nothing, baby.
In many houses — like ours — the TVs have also carved out their own rule. The cable box is our leader now, not us. On one TV, the remote won’t turn it on and off — you must press a button on the TV. The other TV won’t mute or change the volume with the Comcast remote. They both used to. We’ve gone back to the “rabbit ears” 1950s when you had to control the TV by walking over to it. “Buy another TV,” you bellow, smirking. But we did and the Comcast remote still wouldn’t do on/off or volume. We use one remote to turn on and another to change channels. The crazy thing is that other people tell me similar stories about their remotes. Who says the War of the Robots hasn’t begun, as we were warned decades ago.
Is it that surprising we put up with this stuff? After all, it is The Future. Perhaps the future can’t afford to be as reliable as the past.
There’s so many customers, so many products, so much pressure to cut costs and raise the output, the margins, the share price and the future sales forecasts for stock buyers. The giant companies profess to care and immediately send repairmen. But even they admit sometimes you’re stuck with it. So on you go, using two remotes and carrying on, with your car windows all the way up or all the way down. People lived through depressions and world wars and famine — so who cares about white pages, headstrong car windows or disobedient TV’s? So, we live with it, adapting to whatever future rears its head, beautiful or ugly. Trump wormed his way into our future a few years ago and, see, we even got used to adapting to him, waiting out his lies and lurches. It’s what we do as survivors of natural selection: adapt or fade. Good stuff and bad stuff. Steps forward and backward. Roll with the punches and punch with the rolls, as they say. Life ain’t always better than it used to be, but it’s still life. Love it or leave it ...
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.