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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

Have you ever persisted in pounding something into a hole that was not made to fit it? (No, of course you haven't, unless you're me or have little mechanical aptitude, which in my case is a redundancy. Watch: I'm about to demonstrate how.) The more it doesn't fit, the harder I pound. In Skinnerian terms, this is called an Extinction Burst, the frenzied increase in a futile behavior before you finally come to your senses and cease. It's great fun to look for in daily life: Karen Pryor, in Don't Shoot the Dog, cites the store clerk who more and more energetically swipes the malfunctioning credit card through the machine until crying uncle at last and manually entering the number. Another common example is the guy who keeps phoning, with greater frequency all the time, the less you return his calls. Or maybe that's something else, something non-Skinnerian.

With every piece of new technology in my house, that's what I feel like doing: pounding harder. Maybe a good, analog kick will make things work, because my native abilities sure aren't doing the trick. (Sometimes kicks do work in the digital realm, as well as checking all plugs and connections; now that, I can do.)

My brain, I must now face, simply won't accommodate certain types of knowledge. Other types, yes; I'm your girl if want some fairly opaque poetry! But increasingly, my ability deficits encompass almost everything in this new world. My camera; my ever-slowing computer; the GPS I am soon to acquire, as needed in the first rally I am hoping to run; and, I have no doubt, the radar detector I so desperately need. Need.

We had tears the other night when, after a hard-fought war with homework, the victor asked, for his prize, a movie during dinner. When the screen resolutely faced us a stony gray, the red word "VIDEO" appearing at intervals in the upper right corner (Yes, I know--"video," that's what we want to watch. Why won't you respond?) no matter what I did, I knew I had failed. Not just my child (a small fail, to be sure, but "I'm sorry, honey, I just don't know how to fix it; maybe I can get someone to come over tomorrow who will know" is repeated an awful lot in our small barracks), but the entire new century.

So it is a good thing a patient, generous, and technologically apt friend was around when I brought home the new flat-screen TV, then. I realize these things are for most men in the same line as pro football cheerleaders, winning at craps, and imagining sinking a knife into a terducken on Thanksgiving. For me, though, it's just a replacement for the 1978 vintage set, otherwise destined for the dump, I got on Freecycle last year. The one that is barely visible from across the long and narrow bedroom in the new house. Sometimes you just gotta watch movies while under the covers, you know?

I noticed in the store the sales placard, laden with exclamation points, listing all the extras you could jack up the final price with. "Let our experts do the installation for you! Only $99!" I guess this is a savings, provided one's time is worth at most $25 an hour, since the owner's manual takes around four hours to read. This seems to be about the average these days; as a writer, I should take note, since I suspect that it's not true that people don't read anymore. They read manuals now, which means there's no time for War and Peace.

I opted not to pay the Geek Squad, and relied on the kindness of a friend. I have yet to figure out what's going on with the TV downstairs. I may never know. It has its secrets, which it is not about to give up to the likes of me. I would rather coax cream, semisweet chocolate, and espresso to rise inside a ring of rum-soaked ladyfingers. I can trade you a hell of a chocolate charlotte, buddy, if you will show me how to upload photos--and then show me where they've gone to inside this computer. Because I haven't the faintest idea.