Technology out of sight, out of mind

Today I was reminded forcibly of two remarks that I made to a friend recently. The first was that advances in technology that at first seem a novelty soon become a necessity so that we are rendered helpless when they fail. The second was that while we have been amazed by the “noisy revolution” of ever “smarter” smart phones, ever more sophisticated computers and an ever expanding array of powerful electronic devices, the “quiet revolution”, that of the development of the increasingly powerful and long-lasting batteries needed to power these devices, has gone almost unnoticed by the public.

During refurbishment of our flat 3 years ago, our lovely gas fire was taken away from us but we were given gas central heating instead. Our little flat is surrounded above, below and on both sides by other dwellings which help to warm it and we never need to run the central heating continuously even in the dead of winter. It is enough to switch it on from time to time for a quick burst of warmth. This morning, feeling a little cold, I went into the hallway and pressed the button on the little control box on the wall. A little later, I realized the radiators were still cold, so I pressed the button again, but to no avail.

Investigating, I found that near the boiler, a red light labelled “Alarm” was flashing. I opened the control panel on the boiler and took a look. All the settings seemed to be as they should be and the only anomaly was the flashing light. There was only one thing for it: I phoned the repairs line run for Islington by Partners.

A friendly lady listened to my description of the problem, asked a couple of questions and then said she would pass the job on to an engineer. They were quite busy, she explained (why does everything go wrong on a Monday?), and he might not get there until 5 pm but he would definitely come.

A reminder of warmer days: the bluebell wood
A reminder of warmer days: the bluebell wood

The day rolled by as days do, and it became late afternoon. I received a message that the engineer was running late but would still be coming. Then I received a phone call: the engineer was at the door but had received no response to pressing the doorbell. (It turned out that the door phone was slightly off the hook, silencing the bell – something to watch for in future.)

I let in the engineer who turned out to be a cheerful fellow who seemed to enjoy detecting faults. It turned out that the little box in the hall runs on batteries and communicates with the boiler by radio. The batteries had lasted 3 years but were now exhausted. I think I would be, too, after 3 years.

“Do you happen to have a couple of AA batteries?” enquired the engineer, apologising for not having any with him.

I did happen to have some, fortunately. With the new batteries installed, the heating… still didn’t come on. This seemed to make the engineer very happy: a new problem to solve! His face lit up with an amused smile as he worked out what the trouble was. Apparently, the failure of the batteries had jinxed the synchronization of the control box with the boiler. Once this had been sorted out, everything worked perfectly.

As I signed the chit to certify that the job had been done, I asked the engineer whether I could replace the batteries myself next time. After all, if I replaced them, say every two years, that should prevent another breakdown.

“Just call us,” he called airily as he left. “We’ll sort it out.”

Ten out of ten for good customer service, I thought, but it does seem an unnecessary expense to call out an engineer just to change a couple of batteries. I think I should enquire further and find out whether it is safe for me to do the job myself.

Either way, the points I started with have been made: firstly, when our wonderful technology fails, we are stuck precisely because it is so reliable most of the time that we allow ourselves to become dependent upon it; and secondly, batteries now are so good and so long-lasting that we are hardly aware that they are there. All being well, it will be another 3 years before I again have to worry about these particular examples of the technology.

In the meantime, heating on tap is something I am happy to become accustomed to!

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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4 Responses to Technology out of sight, out of mind

  1. AEJ says:

    Of course he doesn’t want you to change the batteries yourself! That wouldn’t give him the chance of coming out to inspect it! I always like to hear stories of people who have jobs they love.

    • SilverTiger says:

      And I can of course sympathise with his desire to keep the work coming in but, knowing my luck, the next time the batteries fail will be late on Friday and I shall have to wait until late Monday for it to be put right.

      It just goes to show that one’s wardrobe should always contain warm garments for indoor use 😉

  2. WOL says:

    I know what you mean about technology failing us. My electricity went off at about 6:30 this morning — the quiet woke me up! (I always have a fan on while I sleep, for the white noise). When the power went so did the modem that controls my internet, TV — and telephone! — My low-cost anydistance phone service is voice over internet protocol (VOIP), and if the power goes down, so does the phone! In the old days of “land lines,” the phones had their own power supply that came in over the telephone line, so if the electricity went, the phone continued to work. Luckily I have a cell phone, and it was charged and had enough minutes on it that I could have called to find out what the trouble was, but by the time I flashlighted my way to where my telephone book was to look up the number, the power had come back on. I do have battery backup/surge protectors that give me enough time to safely power down my computers so I don’t lose data, and my internet modem is plugged into one of those — but my cordless phones aren’t! Still I keep my cell phone under my pillow, as my parents are elderly and my dad (88) has gotten very frail. The ringer is turned off on the phone by my bed, but my parents know that in the event of an emergency, they can call my cell, and it will awaken me. Consequently, I’m always careful to keep it charged up.

    BTW, I’ve been meaning to ask about your house’s fungus infestation and how they were coming on fixing that -?

    • SilverTiger says:

      Because my mobile (cellphone) connects to my “dolbies” (hearing aids) via Bluetooth, I its number as my main phone number. I always keep it charged up. When I am home it sits in a desktop stand where it stays on charge. We also have a landline which I use (in “conference mode” so I can hear it better) to call out because the charges are lower. For example, 0800 numbers are free on the landline, whereas on the mobile you pay for them.

      We are now so dependent on electricity that any failure of the supply is worrisome, especially as they usually come without warning and we don’t know how long they will last.

      Re the fungus, nothing further happened until yesterday when a man came to inspect it. He had been poorly briefed and knew very little of what I told him. He didn’t even know about the big heap of fungus in the cupboard downstairs and went to try to get access to it via the basement flat. As I did not see him again, I do not know what his role was or what he intended to do subsequently.

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