Monday, February 04, 2013

Screen Magic

Can someone tell me why new technology is such a challenge these days? For instance, have you ever been in a hotel room and you wanted to turn off a room light while leaving the one in the bathroom on, but you end up shouting at the panel of buttons that you’ve just spent ten minutes randomly pressing? Or how about when you step into the shower and then can’t work out which of the three taps on the walls actually turns on the water? Or stood in front of the room phone and wondered how to dial room service, only to discover much later (usually when you check out) that it’s a touch-screen phone?
The technology becomes even more challenging when you’re flying. Just the other day, I was on a flight from London to Singapore and was getting increasingly frustrated with my seat console.
I bleated in protest to the passing stewardess: “Miss! Miss! Why can’t I get Channel 2? I want to watch ‘Lincoln’!”
Burdened with the thick coats of passengers, with matchsticks for arms and clearly not someone familiar with the phrase, “I’m a gym member!”, she paused for breath and looked at me, a huge smile plastered on her face that expressed extreme pleasure at being interrupted but every other facial feature indicating ‘idiot’.
“Sir, we haven’t taken off yet!” she chirped with brittle cheerfulness. “The inflight entertainment only comes on when we’re in the air. Please wait till we’re in the air! Please!” she repeated and staggered off.
I wasn’t sure I appreciated all those exclamation marks being directed at me so early in the flight but let it pass as I sullenly put the console away. Fast forward two hours later and somewhere over Berlin’s airspace, the conversation was being replayed at 35,000 feet above sea level.
“Miss! Miss! Why can’t I get Channel 2? I want to watch ‘Lincoln’!”
This time, Mary (her name tag said something else but on the advice of my extremely kiasu lawyers, certain names in this post, including mine, have been changed to protect the identity of individuals), overloaded with two hot pots of coffee, turned to me and said, “Sir, that’s the overhead light you’ve been pressing for the past ten minutes.” Which explained the disco strobe light effect I was noticing and which had been next on my List of Things to Complain About to Mary.
After much fuss, I finally got the movie on with the assistance of the five-year kid sitting on my right. But I immediately noticed that something was wrong.
“Why is Daniel Day Lewis speaking French?” I exclaimed.
“That’s because you’ve got the French version of the movie!” Mary told me with a sigh as she leaned over to press a few buttons. I stared accusingly at the kid next to me.
What I want to know is when did something so basic as a television set become so embarrassingly complicated? Does anyone else remember the time when there was only one screen on the plane and everyone watched the same movie at the same time? And it was only available in one language? That was easy. No complicated consoles to operate. No buttons to push. It also meant you couldn’t stop the movie halfway and go to the loo.
Meanwhile, my five-year old fellow passenger was playing a game on his TV screen, all his attention absorbed in the flashing lights and leaping monkeys hurling coconuts. I didn’t even bother asking him how he got to that screen; I was still struggling with the volume control on mine only to discover the reason I couldn’t hear a thing was because I had accidentally pulled the earphone out of the socket.
For someone who, to this day, is incapable of operating a Windows programme, I was completely overwhelmed by the onboard technology. All those buttons. You practically needed a Harvard degree just to put the console back into its slot (“You press this button and the wire retracts!” Mary explained in a monotone).
Across the aisle, I watched a passenger using his handphone.
I stabbed the call button to summon Mary who, for the record, took her time getting to me. “You can use your hand-phone as long as it’s on flight-mode, Sir,” she said wearily after listening to me explain to her urgently that the captain should be alerted. I noticed that she was no longer even pretending to smile.
At that point, I gave up. I took out a pack of playing cards and spent the rest of the flight playing a game of solitaire.
Next week, I’ll be writing about microwave machines.

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