Turn It Off and On

Two broadcasters of an NCAA basketball game were trying to fill the space created by a lapse in action caused by the malfunctions of the game’s shot clock. As the officials worked to restore the proper functioning of the clock, one of the broadcasters, growing short on comedic material, said that he would like to see what would happen if the mechanics turned the shot clock “off and on.” I chuckled when I heard that; despite the technological ability to eavesdrop and record a mouse urinating on cotton, we are still fixing electronic stuff by turning it off and on.
The night before that NCAA game, I picked up my iPhone to check whatever, and a pop-up asked me to choose a Wi-Fi source. This irritated me, since I was at home, and pay for Wi-Fi. I did what I have done twice before, in the last three years: I unplugged the router, waited the 10 seconds recommended by the online diagnostic repair alert, and plugged it back in. Voila. Far easier than the first failure, which necessitated a visit from a “pole-climber” and the repair of wires outside the apartment.
I am typing this column on a Bluetooth keyboard that is attached to an iPad2, a gift from my son. I need the keyboard because banging out 600 words using only my pointer finger just doesn’t work for me. But on occasion, I will open the ClamCase Pro, and find that the keyboard and iPad have had a spat, and are not communicating. And one of the cures for this condition is to turn “off and on” the Bluetooth signal on the iPad. I was taught this little-known technique by reading the keyboard’s online repair diagnostic.
For about a year in St. Louis, I oversaw the maintenance of some production equipment for the advertising department of a department store. Some of the equipment was mechanical — two hulking machines that spat out “slicks” that we sent by post to all the papers we advertised in — but the other equipment was electronic. I mostly watched the electronic signals crawl across the screens of huge monitors, looking for specific problems that my limited knowledge could address. When I encountered a problem outside my comfort zone, I called Boston, and spoke to the “High Priestess of Information Technology.” She would review my diagnostic steps, and suggest solutions. One day, after a lengthy diagnostic call, she asked me, “Did you power-cycle it?” When I confessed that I had not been taught the “power-cycle,” she calmly asked, “Did you turn it off and on?” (IT people love having their own secret language.)
During my recent annual wellness-check, the pharmacist asking me questions about my health and lifestyle — have you fallen? Do you take pills? Do you use your seatbelt? — and discussed a “living will” with me. I told her that I had instructed my eldest daughter to “call Kevorkian” if I ever misspell a word, or should I be seen at a big box store, shuffling toward a pair of brown plastic bedroom slippers. My youngest daughter might not want to apply the nuclear option under those circumstances, which is why, the pharmacist noted, I need to have the living will. I think that advice, though wise, bears greater weight now, considering the number of technological glitches we solve by “power-cycling” the equipment. I have a vision of my three children pouring tears and slinging snot and slobber as they gather around my tubed and techno’d, inert form, and I can almost hear one of them saying, “Can we just turn him off and on?”