I’ve had some spam problems lately, finally had to contact my phone service provider earlier today to help me block one shifty international caller in particular.
But I’ve also had a few problems with the other kind of spam—the canned meat variety known as SPAM®, a concept I find revolting, innovation though it must have been back in the day. A few nights ago when The Chef and I were watching the news, an advert came on for SPAM, where a male voiceover quipped, “Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”
“Eh, no, thanks,” I said right back to him. “I’d hate to imagine what’s actually in it. Come to think of it, what IS in it,” I asked, turning to The Chef. “Probably mainly salt and fat, right?”
But The Chef already had his readers on, had whipped out his phone, and was furiously scrolling with his index finger.
“Pork with ham,” he announced triumphantly, “Salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrate.”
“Wait. Pork with ham? But ham is…pork.” I felt pretty sure I was pointing out the obvious.
(More furious finger scrolling.)
“It has to do with where on the pig it comes from,” continued The Chef.
“Ah. Well, you should know.”
I assumed we were done at that point and my attention wandered back to the news. But we were far from done.
“Know what the letters in SPAM stand for?”
“Specially. Processed. American. Meat.”
Huh, I thought. Of course. Leave it up to Americans to come up with an abomination like that. (Okay, now we’re done, right?)
“Which American state consumes the most SPAM?”
“I have no idea. West Virginia.”
“Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia.”
I am a Southerner through and through even though New England is home right now, but I will always know the South, and what makes it so…southern, and imagined this product might hold enormous appeal down that way for all kinds of reasons, but mainly for the fatty, salty proclivities of Southern cuisine.
“Nope. It’s Hawaii!”
“Okay, that’s great, and now can we please be finished with SPAM?”
(Giggles from his end of the sofa, but the readers were still perched at the tip of his nose, and the finger kept on scrolling.)
“Guess who invented SPAM?”
“I don’t care.”
“Guess how old it is?”
“Stahpppp. You are exhausting me.”
“It’s 80 years old.”
The Chef was using the ‘People also ask’ feature in Google to unearth all this pointless trivia, those expandable grid boxes that go on to, well I don’t know, infinity, ostensibly, although one hopes SPAM trivia actually knows at least some bounds.
What’s so remarkable about this, gentle reader, is that not all that long ago The Chef still used a flip phone, the same careworn one he had when we met back in 2012. You know what I mean—that near-obsolete piece of technology that was a marvel in its day for its compact size and passable audio quality, but still wanting for its clunky alphanumeric keypad and limited visual display and web-surfing capacity. Even his colleagues chided him for cleaving unto this relic for so long. One in particular loved to parrot him when he texted me during the day: “Click-click-click, click-click-click, click-click-click, click-click-click, click-click-click…Hi!” she’d say, to the amusement of everyone in the kitchen.
But since he finally relented and stepped into the smartphone sphere, he is a bona fide tiny-device-Googling devotee, a veritable treasure trove of helpful information, masterful at dropping in just the right keywords to yield impressive search results. (Hawaii, we know…some things…about you now.)
In all seriousness, I’m a much worse consumer of technology than Chef David, if we’re being honest. Even though I was among the first in my grad school department to carry a laptop onto campus (back in the early ’90s, the old dial-up days), I was loath to troubleshoot technical problems and more likely to come unglued instead. My colleagues assumed that because I was married to a tech wizard who owned an IT company, I must be a wizard, too, by association.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I saw no reason to sort through my own tech problems when I had a ready resource living under the same roof with me, and thus simply defaulted to him to fix whatever was broken.
But my first exposure to the tech world had come roughly a decade earlier, when I was living in Denver, working at the best-ever toy store, where the forward-thinking owner attended a toy show out on the West Coast and returned home to Denver with an entirely computer-based point of sale system. The IBM PC was a technological marvel at the time, but the system and accompanying software required a measure of diligence from her, and from the rest of us, to implement the store’s entire inventory into it so we could print out the barcoded stickers and affix them to everything on the store shelves, thence to the scanning of all those nifty barcodes. The program was called The Retailer, and the startup screen consisted of a black background overlain by a stack of selectable tiles that diverted the user to various components of the software.
And there’s the rub: Technology, however antiquated or modern, requires a user. And some users are more savvy, perhaps a tad more diligent, and certainly more patient, than others.
Life without an in-house tech problem-solver has forced my hand a little, though, obliged me to troubleshoot technical issues on my own of necessity. Before life-as-it-is-now unfolded, I leaned on a friendly coworker here and there at the marketing agency where I work, if I bumped into a glitch I felt I couldn’t handle without help. That’s harder to do now, when most of us find ourselves working remotely, but relying solidly on technology to stay connected with each other, and with our clients.
Our company founder and CEO has urged us on more than one occasion recently to talk to each other, stay connected—and to keep our cameras on. Some of us have adhered to this mandate more than others, and while I’m not really tickled with the high-res video feed of every. single. wrinkle. on my face, I’ve tried to honor this request.
More vexing, though, is the failure of technology, or maybe simply the failure of the user. We’ve all seen the funny moments unfold in online meetings when the errant toddler (or cat, or dog) wanders into camera range to the utter delight of most. But last week I experienced another kind of failure on the weekly call with one of our clients, where the meeting platform we use inexplicably opened twice on my computer, which is to say, I had two instances of myself open in a single meeting.
The net effect of this was an echo (think of that obnoxious person you know who annoyingly echoes every little thing you say), a bad echo I found so unnerving I had trouble going on with the points I had prepared to make. Once I realized the trouble, I clicked the other window closed, and all was well for the balance of the meeting.
Still, I felt like a moron, like that person, the one technology somehow eludes.
Aw, snap. Life goes on, fraught with uncertainty, and it may look like this for some time now, maybe even for the long haul—who knows? Technology is the thing that allows us to do what we do in the absence of face-to-face transactions, the old-fangled way of doing bidness. It’s all good until it fails, alas. Or until the user fails, perhaps. But I submit none of it—smart phone technology, high-res cameras, online meeting platforms—will have the staying power of that meat-in-a-can we call SPAM. Can’t ever make me use that.