Recently, I stayed a couple of nights at an hotel where, at the breakfast buffet, I opted for a childhood favourite that I had not indulged in for some time – hard-boiled eggs. Unfortunately, I discovered I had lost the knack of peeling them (insofar as a brittle, rigid skin can be peeled) and small fragments of shell subsequently turned up in my tea, on my toast and up my sleeve. Later, I thought to look up egg-peeling techniques using my phone and, although the results were enlightening, they were also impractical for a hotel dining room, as they involved either adding something to the water during the boiling or plunging the cooked eggs in cold water and shaking them about. Nevertheless, I am delighted that folksy household tips such as these are now accessible universally and that I no longer need my ancient copy of Mrs Beeton, which I don’t always have handy.
Bearing in mind this acquired dependence on the phone and knowing that my ageing Windows device – which even Microsoft has now forsaken – is no longer up to the job, this week I bought an Android-powered replacement. Of course, I had anticipated that the migration from one system to another might be bothersome so I did some elementary research beforehand. “No problem,” was the invariable answer from those I canvassed and, for the most part, that turned out to be true, though familiarising myself with the new system has taken a little time. (Software can be intuitive but it depends on your starting point: if you have ever questioned why older people stare so fixedly at their screens, the reason could be bafflement.) Still, as they say, “no pain, no gain” and, to be fair to Android, the system seems to work well, except for one problem – migrating a particular Microsoft Oultook account, which has necessitated my reading a lot of difficult-to follow ‘knowledge-base’ articles and, eventually, contacting Microsoft help-lines.
I have to say that I feel sorry for people on the other end of help-lines: a lot of their time must be spent dealing not so much with customers’ technical issues as with their ignorance and frustration, as I can attest. They certainly deserve respect for maintaining their civility, though not all of them have the degree of patience required for the job. One exchange I experienced turned sour when the operator clearly implied that I should simply follow her instructions, stop asking awkward questions and – especially – stop making helpful suggestions. The fact that I had spent hours discussing the issue with her colleagues and had been elevated to this third level of technical assistance did not, in her view, entitle me to have an opinion on either the cause or the resolution of the problem. I felt quite relieved – and a little smug – when she gave up and passed me on to a fourth-level expert who quickly pinned it down. He admitted, apologetically, that the two systems are not fully compatible and that the problem is, therefore, insoluble. Now, I thought, I can get some sleep.
Or at least I could have done, but for the fact that, outside in the street, someone was whistling a tune. It was familiar but the words and title eluded me until the third chorus, when I realised it was Elvis Presley’s Wooden Heart. From my window, I could see the perpetrator, a man of about 60, standing on the street corner. His whistling was of professional standard but he was not busking – he had no collection bowl – and appeared to be just passing the time. He began another tune that, again, was familiar but elusive. I reached for my new phone to see if it had an app that recognises whistled tunes but I was too slow: he began to wander nonchalantly away from my view and out of earshot, leaving me fretting about the allure of artificial intelligence and the fading memory of that melody.