Sunday, May 17, 2020

Specialism: Some Instructive Vignettes

     There’s nothing quite as annoying as not being able to find the tool you need for the job at hand. When the tool is a particular item of knowledge or the mastery of a particular technique, the nuisance value attains its maximum – and this remains the case even in this wide and glorious era of the World Wide Web.

     I’ve written about this particular problem before, in an uncharacteristically (for me) ambivalent mode. But I’m not the only blabbermouth who thinks it’s a matter worthy of reflection. Some writers tend to take it a bit further than others. For instance, consider this article by Shmuel Klatzkin:

     We depend on our cars to get around, but our cars are so complicated that we must send them to a specialist to get them fixed. The laws we live under are too many and too complicated; we hire a lawyer to sort things out, or, if our business requires it, several lawyers with differing specialties. Our psyches are complex, so we hire specialists in the mind to teach us to use our own brains. Our fields of knowledge are so particularized that they use different languages, largely incomprehensible to those outside their field.

     Perhaps a trifle overdone, but essentially accurate. But wait: there’s more!

     At the end of the day, though, a problem remains. Is there someone who specializes in putting together all those little parts attended to by the specialists into one coherent life? By definition, wholeness can’t be a specialty. But without it, who is benefiting from the specialized knowledge?

     Who is in charge of what the specialists can’t address — the whole person, and the community of whole people? Who could that person be if not ourselves or someone who knows us — us, and not just our problems?

     “Wholeness can’t be a specialty” -- ? Say what? Why not? Why can’t the specialist in you be you, the person in whose well-being you have the greatest interest? Who has more of an incentive to master that field, or more innate knowledge of its intricacies?

     Perhaps that does violence to the concept of a specialist. But the subject went beyond the bounds of serious discussion into the far reaches of risibility a long time ago. So once again your humble Curmudgeon must take up his leaden rapier and charge at the windmill that looms threateningly on the horizon.

     I own three cars: a 2011 Mercedes S550, a 2009 C6 Corvette Stingray, and a 2018 Acura RDX. (The C.S.O. insists that the Acura is “her car,” but my name is on the title and my signature on the check that paid for it, so there!) All three use keying systems of the electronic sort – a key fob with a transmitter embedded in it, without which the doors cannot be unlocked and the car will not start. Just about anyone who’s driven a car these past fifteen years will be familiar with such systems.

     But the three fobs differ in significant ways. The placement of the buttons on the fobs varies, of course, so I must look at the fob before pressing any of them, lest I trigger the “Help! Help! I’m being attacked by a crazed Albanian dwarf with a harelip and bad breath!” alarm. Also, the sensitivities of those buttons varies, such that I must not carry a certain one of them in a hip pocket. The capabilities also vary: one will unlock the associated car merely from grasping the driver’s side door handle, while the others conform to other protocols. And finally, the batteries within them vary, as do the intricate and difficult methods involved in accessing and changing them.

     It’s that battery-changing business that most recently frosted my buns.

     About a year and a half ago, the battery in one of those key fobs died. I thought nothing much about it until it occurred to me that I hadn’t the slightest idea how to get to the battery to change it. I fumbled around with the thing for nearly an hour before I was ready to concede defeat. IT was time to consult knowledgeable others.

     So where did I go for enlightenment? Why, YouTube, of course! Where else? And lo! A video on the subject was easily found. The technique involved knowing something about the inside of the fob that wasn’t visible from the outside (of course), but once that little secret stood revealed, the rest was a snap...

     Whoops! I got a little ahead of myself there. Yes, I was able to get the fob open, and yes, I found the battery, ready for extraction and replacement. But there was the little matter of securing a replacement battery yet to be handled. I didn’t have one.

     The fob required a coin-type Lithium battery of a specific variety. Who sells those? Well, electronics stores do...if you happen to live within driving distance of one, which I don’t. And of course, Amazon does, if you can wait two or three days. So I repeated a calming mantra, ordered the battery from Amazon, and set the fob aside until the replacement should arrive. When the battery was in hand, I completed the replacement, reassembled the fob, and complimented myself on having solved the problem.

     But the story doesn’t end there.

     About three weeks later, the battery in another key fob died.

     Surprise! This second fob doesn’t open the way the first one did. Hrmph! Back to YouTube. Search, search, we are! Wait...what’s this? Great God in heaven, I have to do what? With what? And without damaging the inside of the fob?

     The procedure and hazards were sufficiently daunting that I resolved to consult a specialist: the dealer in cars of this sort. Which I did forthwith.

     I arrived at the relevant dealership, sought out the service department, and waited placidly, certain that help could not be far away. I could not have been more wrong.

     The first technician, whom I’ll call Tom, refused to touch the thing. “I’m not good with those,” he said at once. “You’ll have to wait for Dick.” He went off to fetch Dick, while I recomposed myself to wait.

     Dick arrived, took one look at the fob, and said “Wait a minute. That kind is too delicate for me. Let me get Harry for you.” And he scurried off to find Harry, while I settled back to wait a little longer.

     Aha! Here’s Harry! He looked at the fob, grunted “No problem,” and proceeded to twist it apart and extract the battery – another Lithium coin-type – with a gesture that looked something like a Freemason’s secret handshake (except with a key fob). Having exposed the innards, he gave me a litany about why it was wise of me to bring the thing to him, as most owners merely succeed in eviscerating them. “Where’s the new battery?” he said. I produced it, and felt relief creep over me...until he said “Wrong type.”

     Yes, the dealership had the right sort of battery, thank God. But you wouldn’t believe what I was charged for it. All the same, I’d reached the right specialist, and he’d solved my problem for me, at a price. I got into my car and headed home, largely satisfied, though the thought nagged me that I might want to consider putting Harry on retainer.

     But the story doesn’t end there.

     When I got home from the car dealership, I found the C.S.O. struggling with something women must never, ever be allowed to struggle with: our new leather sectional living room sofa.

     Sorry, ladies, but it’s true: women who attempt to “adjust” large items of furniture have done more damage to innocent furniture and the floors beneath them than all the bombs dropped during World War II. This is a man’s job – but not (you guessed it) every man’s job, at least not with every sofa.

     The sectional, you see, had “come apart.” (I forbore to ask how.) Now, this might not strike the average American husband as a crisis situation. And for many varieties of sectional sofa, including the one this new sofa had recently replaced, the reattachment of the sections is relatively straightforward, requiring nothing but the strength of ten and a pure heart. So I removed my jacket and set to the task...and discovered that our new sofa can be assembled only via a technique more arcane than the formula for Classic Coke.

     YouTube was no help that time.

     I called the furniture dealer. “Oh yes, we can handle that for you,” the nice lady said. “But we have to call our service depot and have them schedule a visit from a specialist. And by the way,” she continued in a tone of such innocence that I was minded to “check six” and rest my free hand on my sidearm, “there’s a fee of $175.00.”

     Did I mention that Dad was a Navy veteran? I don’t think the nice lady at the furniture dealer had a prior acquaintance with some of the Navy argot Dad used around me, back when. Anyway, when we had both gotten over our respective cases of shock, she made the appointment – happily, it was only three days in the future. I thanked her through clenched teeth, ended the call, and settled in before my beloved computer to order a few varieties of Lithium coin-type batteries from Amazon.

     The story ends somewhat anticlimactically. The furniture specialist did arrive as promised, and did reassemble the sofa for the specified charge. (He was apologetic about the charge; apparently he doesn’t see any part of it.) And all is now well, thanks to the services of those specialists. But ever since, I’ve wondered if there’s a niche market to be served in all this. Something that would combine facility with Google, in-depth knowledge of YouTube and Vimeo, access to a gaggle of brawny specialists, and the command of a lot of terms and expressions Navy veterans would all recognize. I haven’t yet come up with a finished concept, but I’ll keep you posted.


daniel_day said...

I have not yet looked for a video on how to grasp things that are meant to be grasped (for example, a cell phone, a remote control) but are encased in plastic whose surface prominences measure in the micron range.

Linda Fox said...

I've been avoiding replacement of my fob for some time. Fortunately, it's not needed to enter/exit/start my car. Yes, the charge is ridiculous.

I put off replacing my laptop battery for a good period of time. Apple products can be tricky, as some parts are soldered in, or require manual dexterity AND hands that fall outside the range of normal Caucasian proportions. However, the Best Buy guy, when I went to my appointment, was nice enough to open the box and check inside. And, I saw how he did it, and verified that a solder-sucker wouldn't be needed, so I ordered the part. Which should arrive today.

Unfortunately, my external drive has died, and I really do need to back it all up (outside of the Cloud - why, yes, I am hesitant to take the risk). So, I'll have to put off the switch until I've picked up a new drive at Best Buy. Fortunately, their turnaround time is usually good for curbside pickup.

Old age won't kill me, or cancer. It will be these little prickles of irritation and annoyance.