my backwoods blackberry

I used to tell a funny anecdote of how my grandmother tried to change TV channels with the calculator, mistaking it for the remote control. It had seemed so hilarious that to her, a calculator and remote control looked the same.

I used to tell a funny anecdote of how my grandmother tried to change TV channels with the calculator, mistaking it for the remote control. It had seemed so hilarious that to her, a calculator and remote control looked the same.

These days, I feel more and more like my granny. My understanding of the function of various new digital and electronic gadgets, even my ability to correctly identify them for what they are, has been on a rapid downhill slide for years.

On my last town trip, I encountered a Blackberry for the first time. It was handed to me in answer to my request to use a phone. An incomprehensible multitude of wee tiny buttons stared up at me, crested by a little icon-spangled screen. Beseechingly, I looked at the owner of the thing, who then patiently coached me through the procedure of making a phone call.

Even more embarrassing was when the cordless phone rang at my friend’s place while she was out. When I went to answer it and took it out of its charging base (or whatever you call it), I couldn’t locate the correct button to turn it on so I could take the call. After staring at it for a while, it came to my attention that the ringing had stopped and that the seconds were ticking away on the little screen. Was it already on?

When I hesitantly breathed “hello?” into it, there was indeed somebody on the line. Luckily just a friend who was mildly amused but not too surprised when I sheepishly explained the reason for the mysterious silence at my end.

Here at home, we keep it fairly low-tech apart form the computer and satellite internet. So it was with some hesitation that we added a new gadget to our household: a combined satellite messenger and emergency locator beacon. We had been weighing the pros and cons of an emergency locator beacon that sends out an alert to search and rescue authorities versus a satellite phone for a few years now.

While we liked the idea of getting something that would enable us to call for help when away from the cabin or if our satellite internet system failed, the cost of either of these things is rather prohibitive when you live on just a few thousand dollars a year. Also I don’t like that the emergency locator beacons alert search and rescue only, and are without the option of calling in help from other sources.

Chances are so much greater, I believe, that something minor happens (the boat gets damaged when out an a trip, a thrown out back) where help is required but where there isn’t really any need for a fully fledged search and rescue operation.

When the satellite messenger and personal locator beacon Spot came on the market a year or two ago, we were intrigued. At $170 it was affordable, although an annual subscription fee of around $100 is required, which in the long term makes it more expensive than a regular PLB and possibly a satellite phone.

The Spot sends out an alert that includes your location’s GPS co-ordinates and a map link to a search and rescue centre, but alternatively lets you send a help request to people of your own choice. And it can send an “all is well” message to friends and family, also including a map link and current coordinates.

As usual, we waited to see how the feedback from Spot users was. Overall, people were pleased with it and it seemed to work well in most places, so we decided to get one too. I’m happy to report that the initial online registration procedure is by far the most complicated part of its operation, but entirely manageable even for the digitally challenged such as myself. After that, it’s largely a matter of remembering to bring it along and pressing the appropriate button.

The “all is well” function is particularly appealing to me, eliminating the headache of being stuck somewhere because of weather and getting ever closer to the overdue date. Also we now have a way of calming down concerned family when we are incommunicado because our satellite system is on strike. We’ve tested it in the vicinity and it works fine.

I really like the idea of taking it into town with me next time. I picture myself at a Whitehorse coffee shop, casually pulling the Spot out of my bag and airily saying, “Oh, I better let Sam know that I made it to town OK—just gotta use my backwoods blackberry.”

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who

lives at the headwaters of the

Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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