Embrace Technology ... 

But Don't Forget Your Memorable Word

Last week I spent a long time waiting in the bank. I'd managed to lock myself out of my account trying to use the internet banking service. Eighteen months ago, it had all sounded so wonderful. They had promised checking my balance, transferring money and arranging direct debits could all be done without going into a branch or standing in a queue.
And yet here I was, waiting in one. The officious computer interface had informed me that I had incorrectly entered my passcode, so I'd had a friend oversee my next attempt. But the interface decided that was wrong too. And then that it was wrong a third time, even though I had a witness to prove otherwise. Clearly the bank's own system had a problem, so I was happy to ring the "helpline". It was then I fell foul of my own disorganisation. The irritatingly cheery lad on the other end of the line asked for my "memorable place" and my "memorable word". The trouble was they weren't terribly memorable at all - so much so that I couldn't even remember having set them. Slightly embarrassed and utterly stressed, I panicked and gave him the likely answers. It had all been going so well up to that point. But now, impossibly cheerful lad informed me that one of the answers had been wrong.
No, he couldn't tell me which one. No, I couldn't have a second guess. And now he had to lock me out of my bank account. I would have to present myself, in person, with photo ID, at one of his branches, if I ever wanted access to my paltry fortune again. Subsequently, come first thing on Monday morning, I found myself waiting in my local branch behind a nice Polish family opening their first account, while I cursed all technology and my faith in it.
My inability to remember my memorable place and word, of course, was now paling into insignificance by comparison with my ire at the faulty automated system. By the time I emerged from the bank, my passwords reset and my money accessible once more, I was ready to abandon all electronic devices and throw in my lot with the technology-eschewing Amish people of North America (although I seem to recall even they had credit card terminals in their gift shops).
It wasn't to be because, by the time I got home, I'd used the ATM, paid by chip-and-pin in Tesco, texted home to explain why I was running late and, although I knew what time it was due, monitored my bus's arrival through its newly-installed satellite location information system. I'd even entertained myself during the journey home with some soothing music on my iPod.
Of course, it's not the technology that's the problem; it's our reliance upon it. Unless you're a fellow gadget geek, you probably won't understand this, but as far as I'm concerned, life without the internet or mobile phones has become unthinkable.
Last year, a fault with a BT line caused chaos in our house. We had no phone line and no internet. No internet, of course, means no e-mail and I just knew that the only really urgent e-mail I had ever received was waiting, right then, to pop up in my inbox, in need of an immediate reply - if only I could get to it.
I couldn't do any work either because my access to the outside world had been cut. It was two days before I remembered the encyclopaedia on the shelf behind me. But gadgetry is just so much easier - and a lot more fun. I remember vividly the entire family gathering around to watch the first-ever cycle of our tumble dryer.
My mum treats the computer as if her every tap of the keyboard might unleash nuclear Armageddon, but she happily Googles for her lace-making supplies. My dad, who is so naturally suspicious of new devices that he waits until he has observed someone else successfully using them for at least a year before he will buy in, actually gets more texts in a day than I do.
As a lover of the latest technology, I use self check-ins at airports, and self check-outs at supermarkets. But I'll admit that even I was bewildered by the automated public toilet I encountered in Stockholm. From the light, the door mechanism and the seat warmer - yes really - to the flush, the soapy water and the hand dryer, everything was automated. For me, it was a step too far. There are some things that are just better done manually. Anyway, how does it know when you're ready for the next stage?
That said, even our cats are microchipped, which means that their temperatures can be taken without the usual indignities.
So, embrace technology, book some yoga lessons - and make sure you make a note of those memorable answers.

(Originally blogged in February 08)