Short-Circuited by the Electronic Age

Mosaic artist Sybil Sage on the frustrations of modern technology

There’s a conspiracy designed to make me feel inept. For years I drifted along with complete assurance that I could master those few new things that presented themselves — whether it was adjusting the speed control on the car or packing purchases into boxes with no sides at CostCo. Buoyed by this success, I had the confidence to register with Auction Sniper to win auctions on eBay. This spiked the amount of calls I get from friends begging to be mentored when they’ve found a slightly used wok they simply must have.

It’s upsetting, therefore, to find that I am not keeping up as successfully with changes that are supposed to add ease and comfort to our highly stressful and challenging lives. It took three tries before I spotted the tiny black button you have to push to open the rear door of a Zipcar.  The manual that came with my digital camera offers helpful instructions like, “With a PictBridge printer, you can easily print pictures with DPOF.” (Nothing is easy when you don’t know know what a DPOF is because you skipped the preceding 145 pages of a booklet longer than Moby Dick.)

If men were once what I sought to understand, what baffles me now is my computer. In times of technical trouble, my husband and son have been serving as first responders. Then they’ve tired of running with the virtual defibrillator and have taken to responding to my cries by yelling back, “Just reboot.” Their obvious disdain brings back memories of being single and the repeatd efforts at making it work with seriously unavailable men, causing my friends to advise, “You should move on.” (Obviously, rebooting is the new moving on).

There is, happily, one aspect of the computer that defeats all three of us, leveling the playing field. Rebooting has proved to be ineffective when trying to decipher the verification code, or “captcha” — that vague and shadowy series of letters and numbers, deliberately obscured, required before you’re permitted to send an email on a site.

The captcha process explains itself with, “We need to know that you’re a real person.” (How about asking all those unavailable guys?) It’s impossible to copy the code because even with 20/20 eyesight, you can’t make out if you’re looking at a W, two N’s, a zero or an O. The second series typically shows letters that no longer overlap, but have slashes through them. This confuses those of us “real people” who understand that something slashed out is being canceled. By now, our self-esteem is totally dependent on figuring out if we’re looking at a C or a G.

My suspicion is that Captcha is a conspiracy foisted upon us by ophthalmologists.

Editor’s Note: After retiring as a television comedy writer, Sybil Sage has brought her creativity to mosaic art, designing one-of-a-kind vases, picture frames, candlestick holders and planters. Her newest item is her prizewinning, custom-made cremation urns — for pets (the pet URNity) and for people (the e URNity). Visit her at

9 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    I am the person in my household to undo my husband’s computer mishaps or stop him from clicking the mouse when he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He hates the Captchas talking about how they were thought up by some computer geek attempting to keep his job. He was horrified by not finding the log out on a recent e-mail account because the site had changed. He had a meltdown when we went from Windows 98 to Windows XP. Things were even less cheerful when we went to Windows 7 a year ago. One day the captchas will fall in place and the geeks as my husband loved to call them will find another horror for the unsuspecting casual computer user to prove they are real.

  2. avatar Maggie W says:

    I’m not concerned with keeping up with technology.  I am still intrigued with a toaster’s pop up mechanism.  Works every time.  As long as my TV remote works and the cell phone has ringing ability, I am good to go. 

    My true intent is to tell you how much I admire your mosaic art.  Lovely!  I have a mosaic birdhouse that garners many compliments.  Only problem is I have to keep the opening closed because birds want to nest there.  It would be much too hot for the young.

    • avatar Sybil Sage says:

      Thank you, Maggie.  Please feel free to forward my site to others as I’m trying to become internationally well known.  Or if not that, to get a few sales.  I just introduced cremation urns – for pets and for people – that have me excited as they’re unlike what had been available.

  3. avatar D C says:

    We had a voice mail on the cell phone that caused me some panic — Comcast Cable will be changing EVERYTHING… that’s not what it actually said, but that’s pretty much what it said.  And within 24 hours EVERYTHING had changed.  Now I must rely on my teenaged sons not only to play DVDs, but to help me find a TV program.  I do OK with computers, because I have to at work or I would lose my job.  But at home, I just don’t want to have to think that hard.  My attitude has been, “I’ll spend all this time learning how to do it and then it will change.  Why waste the time?”  This fall I will be down to one child left at home, and although he’ll probably be here much longer than his older siblings were, I should probably learn to do this stuff.  ***sigh***  I know I CAN do it… I just have to WANT to do it.  But I’ve walked a minimum of 5 miles per day since Valentine’s Day… and as much as 10 miles a day a couple of times… I figure I can do anything!

  4. avatar central coast cabin home says:

    OMG….what is Captchas?! Do I even really want to know. lol

    • avatar Chris Glass` says:

      Captcha’s are those letters and numbers in a box you have to copy correctly before being allowed to advance on some sites. Sometimes you see them after registering on a site or they could pop up before sending an article or e-mail especially on news sites. They are supposed to determine that you are not a bot but a person. Quite often the letters and numbers appear with a slant, or in a semi cursive script or with interference so the user pays close attention.

  5. avatar jwil5423 says:

    It’s a conspiracy.  ‘Central Coast Cabin home’, you’re well out of it.  Carry on!

  6. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    I had to do one last night on my “smart” (?) phone!  So small and crammed together that I thought I would never, ever get it!  It took about 8 tries and finally came back to the original captcha  which I finally got.  I was sweating as though it was an exam I knew I wouldn’t pass!