At some point in his life my friend Budd must have decided that learning anything technical or mastering the fine points of everyday gadgets was incompatible with his asceticism. He is exclusively devoted to the pure and the good. Helping him to pick out a new TV was going to be a challenge, but I was prepared to be patient. He said he needed one because he was unable to get any channels. The set just wouldn’t go on. Last weekend he missed all the opening-round NCAA tourney games.
When I arrived I found that his 13-inch portable was receiving input from the DVD player and he had been able to watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers football games that he loves. (He subscribes to a service that sends an edited version of each game, and he plays these throughout the year.) I quickly ascertained the reason he was unable to receive any channels was that the power to his DIRECTV receiver was switched off. Maybe he had inadvertently bumped into it. But I wanted him to upgrade to a better TV. Where did he want to go shopping?
“Circuit City,” he said.
I had already told him they went out of business just after Christmas. We went to Best Buy. Entering the TV department we saw a fabulous home theater system. Having one look at it, Budd declared that nobody needs such a thing and anyone who could afford it should be taxed. This is what comes of listening to NPR all day long.
We ended up in the aisle with the 19- and 22-inch TVs. One screen showed a lot of semi-naked men seated on the ground and swaying their shoulders as they faced a kind of altar. Budd ventured the rite was in Indonesia. We looked at another TV with a built-in DVD player. The difference is price was only $50. Budd was acting confused, so I suggested we take a walk and discuss the options.
“I don’t understand any of it,” he said. Pulling himself together, he finally decided to go for a 19-inch set with the DVD feature. We brought it home and I hooked it up. Then I tried to help him make sense of the new remote control and the DIRECTV remote, too. Despite having subscribed to this service for several years, it appeared Budd had no idea that channels could be selected by punching the number keys. He must have relied exclusively on the channel up/down toggle. He also seemed surprised to learn a channel guide could be called up with one touch of a button and he could navigate through this on-screen menu and select a channel. I wrote out a few simple guidelines for the basic functions he will be using most. We practiced with the built-in DVD player, looking at a Nebraska-Iowa State game from the Bill Callahan era. Budd noted that a large number of men in the student section wore strange costumes and gestured with their upper bodies and directed their painted faces at a kind of altar.
Then I asked to have a look at his computer. It recently came to my attention that he has no clue about hyperlinks or that a specific URL can be entered in the browser bar, which leaves him relying exclusively on Google searches to get to websites. And I’d bet $50 that he has no idea how to create folders and organize his inbox. In fact, I’d bet $500.
So I sat down in front of the monitor and found 15 e-mail files open in Microsoft Outlook. He has mentioned more than once that his “techie,” to whom he paid consulting fees, grew angry with him and refused to come out any longer. I managed to keep my patience but came home puzzled by how anyone—Budd isn’t the only example—could will himself to ignorance. “I can’t possibly do this” is a byword with him. Being quick to surrender is a continual foible. On the other hand, if I need to know the scientific name of a plant or isolate a strange religious practice, even one that’s enacted on the gridiron, he’s the guy to call.