Technology Grandma

When technology surpasses my ability to understand how it works

Me, eventually

Back when my mother sold the family home in Menlo Park and moved out to Pacific Grove, me and my eight sibs were cautiously optimistic. I remember asking her if she needed instructions on how to record on the VCR (this was the early Nineties). It was a seriously old top-loader VCR, complete with corded remote that could pretty much only STOP, PAUSE and PLAY. Anything else, you had to get up and do it directly on the machine. Setting the timer to record was a complicated process that was super easy to screw up, so I wasn’t too surprised when my mom responded to my question with a laugh. “I don’t think I need to know that,” she added.

I got it. All she needed to know was STOP, PAUSE and PLAY, and that was on the remote, cord or no. I used to think to myself, all this new technology must be confusing. And I was probably right. She never did get herself a cellphone. Why would she? She only went outside for walks or maybe to the grocery store. And when she relocated eventually to assisted living, she had even less use for technology. There were nurses for that shit.

Meanwhile, technology has surpassed my own capability to understand it. Case in point: I recently started watching WandaVision streaming on Disney+. At home, I have an ultra-easy Roku. But I’m dogsitting this weekend, and last night, I decided to pick up watching on my client’s Apple TV. And as I touchpadded my way to the correct episode and got it to play, I was surprised to hear a female robot voice describing everything that was happening on the screen:

“Agent Monica Rambeaux materializes, surrounded by an ashy substance. All around her, people are appearing as ash whirls around them…” says Magic Voice. What’s happening? Is this on purpose? Is this another kooky Wanda Maximoff trick? I mean, she is forcing a town to take part in her dream sitcom life. Adding a narrator wouldn’t be all that weird, would it?

But yeah, it was weird. And I quickly realized that in my struggle to pause playback on the tiny Apple TV remote, I’d somehow managed to turn on voiceover narration…but only for Disney+. Shit. So I for-real paused it and went to the Disney+ settings…..okay, nothing there about audio or accessibility. I found the accessibility settings for the Apple TV, but voiceover narration was already turned off. So…..what now?

Stuck, I did what everyone else in my age group or younger would do: I Googled “how do you turn off voiceover narration on Disney+ on Apple TV”? At least I’m young enough to know that Google still has all the answers. The Apple TV forum had the answer at their seventh option: swiping downward on the touchpad would bring up the option to turn voiceover narration on and off. Somehow, when trying to pause the playback, I’d swiped downward and then arrowed down and then clicked, turning on the narration option. It’s such a random but specific set of actions! How could anyone know that without instructions?

I guess I, like my mom, “don’t really need to know that.” But when I did need to know it, at least Google could bail me out! I know that probably won’t always be the case, so I’d better get all my binge-watching in now.

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