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Story Last modified at 5:19 p.m. on Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Age undermines ability to debate or complain
Mountain Echoes

Frank E Baker

I'm reluctant to complain about stereotyping and "ageism," but I've learned in recent years that once a person reaches senior status, it's best to avoid debating or complaining on certain subjects. With only the slightest hint of negativity toward modern technology, for example, one is branded as an over-the-hill fogey incapable of accepting change.

When we switched from analog cell phones to digital, I refrained from telling younger people such as my children that calls from certain locations could no longer be sent or received. Bold Peak, at the south end of Eklutna Lake, is my best example. With my hulky, old analog cell phone I had no problem at all completing calls from the mountain as soon as I was in sight of Eklutna Lake or at its 7,522-foot summit. My Nokia digital cell phone through GCI is completely worthless up there, and several other locations in Chugach State Park not that far from Anchorage.

I didn't say anything when all of the clock radios and alarm clocks went digital, and that you needed the equivalent of a 747 jet takeoff checklist to change settings. I'm quietly tickled when technology goes retro. I noticed recently on a brand new pickup truck that tuning the radio to different stations is completed by turning a small knob, which is the way it was done many years ago. Sometimes technology seems to take a giant leap backward.

In some cases I just can't help myself – I simply have to tell someone. In a recent Star column I lamented about wallowing in soft snow with high-tech snowshoes that are popular items at REI and other outdoor stores. My account told of how I remedied the problem by dragging out my old-school, 56-inch-long wooden snowshoes. In anticipation of young readers' question: No, I wasn't around when mastodons roamed northern Alaska.

There are probably folks out there who would rather sink deeply into the snow and have a difficult time as long as they are outfitted with the latest and greatest equipment. I don't hold that against them. As I've said in past columns, "It's better to look good than to feel good." But it's really hard to "look good" when you're sinking down a foot or more into the snow with every step and thrashing around with arms flailing wildly like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

I didn't say anything to anyone, except perhaps my wife, when they started making a lot of the parts in lawn mowers and snow blowers out of plastic instead of metal. I took an old snow blower in for maintenance recently—only the second time in more than 20 years—and the repairman told me that I had a gem because of all its metal parts. He said it would be running long after the newer models expired

Nor did I whine when they began making tamper-proof pill containers that can only be opened with a jackhammer or C-4 plastic explosives. Then how about that thick, impregnable plastic they mold around certain products? To provide consumers some relief, manufacturers ought to include with these products a battery-powered recording, similar to those in greeting cards, with a menacing, gritty Clint Eastwood voice that says, "Go ahead, see if you can open this...make my day."

I refrained from voicing my displeasure when a larger proportion of news content went onto the Internet rather than printed publications. I didn't gripe about not being able to get in contact with my children because I don't send text messages. I tried to curb my tongue when entering deep, dark caverns of voice-mail jail, where reaching a live person is as vexing as trying to figure out how Donald Trump combs his hair.

Very soon I will be exchanging my small, very convenient cell phone for a modern iPhone, which will surely present a learning curve. But I figure if I don't adapt to the new technology soon—which seems to revolve around sliding things on the screen with fingers—that in a few years I won't be able to make a simple phone call. As I struggle through the throes of mastering the new device, I won't complain, especially to younger people.

It seems that when we reach a certain age we no longer have that right.

That is, unless we have our own column in the Star.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 4, 2011.