Who has not been surprised or just plain irritated by some technological innovation, supposed to make our lives better?

Who has not been surprised or just plain irritated by some technological innovation, supposed to make our lives better?

We’re supposed to be thankful. After all, didn’t washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, vacuums and frozen foods eliminate the need for servants in the middle class home? Weren’t homemakers thus freed to interact with the rest of the family, watch television, or talk on the phone? Wasn’t “Progress is our most important Product” almost a national motto?

The implication is that we must adjust for our own good. And, of course, we want good profits for the businesses that invent, produce and sell everything “new and improved”!

But one can be blind-sided. Even if you are over the computer “hump,” think of the first time you tried to pay using a chip reader: you stuck the card in the slot and pulled it out quickly, as you were prompted in using the slide readers. But the card did not register, and perhaps you had to learn what to do from a very, very young attendant: Leave the card in the chip reader until you are told to remove it. Said with a smile. (My first time, the attendant had to show me.)

Then there are the innovations you didn’t know were there. Many, many years ago, a friend caught a ride in a Saab that had a heated passenger seat. It was on, and he didn’t know it. He got very embarrassed, thinking he had peed in his pants.

Some innovations seem useless, unless their intent is to make you feel dumb.

You phone in a prescription renewal to the automated system. If the renewal requires a doctor’s okay (as it probably says on the label), the system used to say so, indicating there would be a delay. No problem. Nowadays, however, the system might ask you to wait for a pharmacist to come on the phone. You wait, listening to awful music. And wait. Finally the pharmacist comes on to tell you that this prescription will require a doctor’s okay and may take additional time to fill. …which you already knew.

I hope I will be forgiven for being a bit short with the pharmacist, complaining that their system has wasted their time and my time, in telling me what could have been delivered by a robot voice. Now that you’ve gotten me used to the efficiency of dealing with an automated system, why are you forcing me to deal with a live human being?

Add insult to injury: later that evening a robo call may come from the pharmacy to remind me that the prescription will require a doctor’s okay. Okay, already!

In “Good Car Hunting,” I talked about the bewildering number of buttons, displays, and screen options in modern cars. The salesman is so busy pointing to all the visuals and buttons inside the car that he or she rarely offers to pop the hood. The action is in the readouts, not in the engine. It all reminded me of the first time I faced a personal computer.

If you follow Consumer Reports on cars, you may have noticed how displays and options have become more important in determining the final ratings. I got an extended warranty on my new car more for the electronics than the engine or drive train.

Since purchasing a new car, I have received no less than three levels of printed material to help me adjust to its technology. First, of course, the standard big book on the car. Along with it, however, is almost as big a book on the electronic features, particularly the ones that can correct my driving automatically or connect me to a Car Central somewhere that will help me when I fail to drive correctly.

Second level, are shorter quick guides, assuming I am too impatient to read the big books. Third level, coming in the mail, are picture books that cover the same features, perhaps assuming I am too impatient to read the quick guides! Add the monthly magazines, which of course have features showing what exciting things people are doing with my car. But also including more pictures and text repeating what was covered in the handbooks and quick guides.

It is shrewd of the companies to want you to think of car ownership as entering a big family. Nagging is an essential feature of family life.

If your car is sending messages to Car Central, and CC has your email address, get ready for a fourth electronic level. Not only will the dealer remind you by email and probably on your car screen of a needed check-up, but you may be urged to access the car’s profile on a website! All of which encourages us to neglect under-the-hood checks of oil and fluid levels. The car displays or Car Central will certainly tell us if anything is wrong.

Recently, my low tire pressure icon came on. That feature has been around for a number of years, and it always irritates me. Which tire? How low is it? I want to know. There’s no way to know—at least in the mid-range cars I have owned. So you have to get out and hand-check each tire with a gauge. When it happened recently, it was a very cold day, so I decided that I could risk it for the 3 miles to get home; none of the tires looked that low. I would wait for a warmer tomorrow.

That wasn’t good enough for Car Central. Within a few hours, I received an email telling me my icon had appeared, the condition had been communicated to Car Central and I needed to air up one or more tires. If the icon didn’t disappear after airing up to the prescribed pressure, I was to proceed immediately to my dealer.

At which point, I felt way too connected.

[Unsaid, by the way, is the fact that the icon won’t disappear after airing up until you have driven a few blocks.]

It reminds me of those times when my smart phone tells me I am only five minutes away from a location I sometimes visit on that day, the message appearing about the time I would normally leave to go there.

Too connected!