I have something wrong with my right arm. For going on six months now I can only raise it about 130° to the front and only about 98° to the side, and as for lying on your back, hands behind your head–you know, the way you look at clouds or stars when you are full of youthful hope–forget it. I do not know what it is but I am pretty sure it is some kind of repetitive use injury. One thing I do know: I was texting with a friend of mine who is in her 30s and I said “oh I can’t put my right arm over my head” and she wrote back “ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha” and I wanted to get on the plane and fly to New York and throw her out a window. Be advised I am perfectly capable of throwing someone out a window, as long as I don’t have to do it overhand.
My editor told me I needed an ergonomic mouse. She told me that 100 times. And 100 times I told her I was ordering one. But the truth is I felt like my problems were way beyond “ergonomic mouse.” I just couldn’t do it. All my experience with chronic pain is that it either goes away or it doesn’t.
I got it into my head about a month ago that what I needed was an iPad and an iPad pencil and I decided that I would get myself one as a Holiday Gift. Supposedly they have this fairly good writing-to-text technology that will take handwriting on the screen and turn it into text. Being able to write and edit is a crucial part of my endless quest to feed myself, so I thought that if I could figure out this technology, I could solve my problem. Plus perhaps if I could spend 30 years not typing I could undo the damage I have done in 30 years of typing.
I made this decision right before a trip to New York and, when I arrived, I found myself an hour early for my first appointment. Surely one could try out and buy an iPad in an hour. I also wanted to try the Surface because I heard the technology on those–as far as the actual feature that interested me–was better than on the iPad. That said, one had to take into account having to use Windows, which–ugh.
I went into a famous electronics store that I am not giving the name of because if I do there is a chance (a small one, but a chance) they will read this and figure out who assisted me and fire them. Anyway, I immediately got help and told the person what I was interested in. He showed me the iPads and talked about all the features they had that I did not care about. I told him I wanted to try the text-to-type feature. With the air of someone who knows what he is doing, he poked at the iPad for a minute or two, but I began to get suspicious when ten or so minutes had passed and we were not experiencing any text-to-type activity. He asked me if I would excuse him for a moment, and then he left. I waited and waited and waited. He came back just as I was leaving for my appointment. “Are you sure you have to leave?” he said, and I just laughed, and said, yes, I was entirely sure, as Silicon Valley had not yet hacked time.
That part of the story has a happy ending: ten minutes later I was drinking, and with a very fine companion. The rest of the story continues along a theme of failure.
The next day, I went to a different branch of the same store. The woman who helped me was much more eager than the last fellow; also, I told her what had happened the day before and I don’t think I have never received such wonderful and real sympathy from another human being in my life. She also had literally no idea how to use the Apple Pencil, and was similarly helpless with the Surface, though she did spend quite a lot of time googling stuff on her phone and trying to figure it out. This was nice of her, however, whereas I only wasted 45 minutes on my last useless trip to this establishment, on this trip, I wasted an hour and 45.
I left feeling very defeated. My arm didn’t hurt when I was just walking around, but it hurt as soon as I started to work, and I work a fair amount, and I desperately wanted a solution. I was even willing to pay for it, but it seemed absolutely impossible to make this simple thing happen.
At that moment, I saw the Brooklyn Apple store in front of me, a glass mini-airplane hangar, very confident-looking, and I went inside. It was here that I learned that the reason I could not try out the writing-to-text feature on an iPad was that you had to download apps to even use it and none of these apps came with the iPad. Surely there was something to be done about this! But there was not. The guy told me that I should buy one, try it, and if it didn’t work, I could return it.
I said I would think about it and on the way back to my hotel I did. I decided that seemed like a giant pain in the ass, and, once again, went to meet someone for drinks.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend Tor was researching the best apps for iPad write-to-text and sending me YouTube videos of people demo-ing them. Watching these videos, I just felt sad. All the people in the videos were so excited about technology. I didn’t get it. Like technology actually made them happy, the way people or pets make me happy. It was hard to listen to them, because I also just resented them so much, and I was also jealous of them. Why couldn’t I love something that people paid actual money for? What was wrong with me?
“Maybe I should just get a Surface,” I said to Tor.
“Our relationship will not survive you trying to learn Windows,” Tor said.
A few days later I flew back to Sacramento from New York. Tor picked me up at the airport and we went to the class that we are taking together, reading Marx’s Capital. The professor asked everyone what the traditional meaning of Luddite was. We all said things like “bad at technology” or “hates technology.” He told us while this was indeed the understood meaning at this time, or the way the word was used, the Luddites were people who, in the 18th century, destroyed spinning wheels because they knew that this technology would lower their wages and lead to their eventual total unemployment. He told us that a Luddite was not someone who hates technology and is bad at it but more accurately who understands, correctly, that automation is a threat to his livelihood.
I was thinking to myself the whole time, yes, I hate technology, yes I am bad at it, but the reason I hate it, the reason I am bad at it, is that I know that it is against me. I mean, I am a writer. And I am writing this thing for the internet, but the internet is not my friend. Computers are not my friends. I don’t know how you define friend, but for me it’s got a lot to do with “is fun”, “is nice,” or, lacking either, “helps me to earn money.” Computers do not qualify. I mean, you might think they do, but it’s on their terms. People don’t throw computers across the room because they’re angry. They do it because they hate computers.
After the class we went to the third branch of this famous electronics store I had visited inside of a week. “Please try to not get upset,” Tor warned before we went inside. I promised I would stay calm. Tor insisted on trying out the iPad to see if any of the applications it comes with would allow you to try writing-to-text. I am here to tell you that none of them does, and there is four hours of your life given back to you (yes, I take checks). I am proud to report that even though this process made me want to scream and cry I just stood there patiently, willing myself to a sort of emotional blandness. I asked if I should just try the Surface and Tor took a deep breath, and said sure, sure why not.
A sales associate with big bovine eyes and dandruff on his shoulders did indeed know how to use the writing-to-text function. I explained to him that I had something wrong with my arm, and, despite being very young, with flexible joints, he did not laugh at me and indeed seemed appropriately somber as he handed me the tablet and stylus and said, “Try this.”
I wrote, with the stylus, “My name is Sarah Miller and all I want to do is buy a tablet for the love of God.” It came out to “My name is Sarah Mille and all I wore to do is buy a tablet for the love of Goo.”
“It improves as it learns your handwriting,” the guy said.
“OK,” I said. “I mean, honestly, this seems like it works pretty well.”
I circled what I had written with the lasso thing so I could erase it and write something else. But apparently that was not how this worked in this program. “How do I erase this?” I asked.
“You have to do that with the keyboard,” the guy said.
I laughed, a horrible bark of a laugh. “Of course you do,” I said. “Why would I have ever thought this whole thing would actually be helpful?”
“Oh Jesus Christ,” Tor said, and turned around and sprinted to the other end of the store.
“Is he OK?’ the guy said, alarmed. He looked really upset. I started to explain to him that my boyfriend hated shopping with me for technology because I just got very worked up. I spotted Tor, several aisles away, and imploringly called out to him. “Tor! Tor! Come back! Please!”
He shook his head at me and headed further away. He was really mad.
I started laughing really hard.
“Are you ok?” the guy said.
“Oh yes, yes,” I said, gasping for breath.
“Did you want to try anything else on the Surface?” he said.
“No offense,” I said. “But I never want to see another tablet as long as I live.”
He nodded forlornly and put the Surface down, surface up. He took a few steps, I thought he was just going to help another customer, but he came back. He was holding an ergonomic mouse.
“Some customers with arm pain find this very helpful,” he said. He had such a sweet face. His enormous eyes reflected the entire store, from the phones to the DVDS to the home appliances. If I looked into his eyes long enough I wondered if I would see Tor, cursing, pacing in the coffeemaker aisle.
“Fine,” I said, “Fine. I will take it.”