Some generous person gave me a Nook Simple Touch Reader for Christmas. I have long recognized the utility of electronic readers, starting with Amazon’s Kindle. Like many New Yorkers, I have books and papers in too many places. Mostly, my books gather dust.

E-readers are numerous on the New York subways. More than once I have glanced over the shoulder of the person sitting next to me to catch a good glimpse of his or her device. Many persons of what I would take to be average, or better, intelligence seem proficient in the operation of such devices; turning them on/off, flipping pages, slipping them neatly into bag or purse; looking comfortable with them. People who read silently on the subway are quiet and pose no danger to society.

Though I don’t read as many books as I once did—but many selections from books and reviews of books online–I greeted my new gift Nook favorably. I liked that it was “simple.” So I charged the battery with a USB connection. No problem.

No problem with the lengthy Terms of Service: a quick I Accept. Selecting my time zone: done. Connecting to a wi-fi network. Which one? I have no other wi-fi devices. Only a few choices not recognizable by name. Who, what? Only two had fair signal strength. One of those could not connect, and the other was password locked. How would I find the password?

So I went online and waded through lists of Nook topics, read the FAQ, couldn’t find the answers I wanted, and checked out recommended, where I typed in my question in the capacious box. I’m good at describing problems in simple English, and clicked Submit. Well, turns out I could get expert advise for $19 on, and $29 on Yahoo Answers. No thank you.

I found and called customer service on the Barnes & Noble website, when through that menu and an automated voice referred me to tech support, but the call was dropped or intentionally, or programatically ended—twice.

And that is where the matter stands at this point. I turned the Nook off. It sleeps with the digital visage of Joseph Conrad on the black & white screen. Good man, Conrad.

Whatever happened to live customer service? In the old days, I could dial three digits and get live support from my cell phone provider. Today? Fugetabout it. More touch choices from calm humanoid voices. I went online and unhappily discovered a forest of FAQs, menus, lists, live chat that failed to connect me to a human voice or anything.

Increasingly, I enter this Byzantine maze erected by our Byzantine civilization; a firewall put in place by imperious content providers to keep away the rabble of frustrated customers pounding at the gate. Aren’t there sufficient unemployed in India, or the U.S.A., for that matter, to answer these questions? Or, are human beings just too expensive to employ to answer person-to-person questions anymore? If so, what does that portend for our society?

I don’t know who writes these elaborate websites; maybe the same people who write intricate instruction books for software and the like. I’ve browsed through them in bookstores—remember them? Java or HTML for Dummies? Patient mouse steps, rational mouse clicks. After several minutes of this, and no immediate solution, my solution, the irrational mind takes over and I want to cry Help! At which point, I want to talk to a live representative.

Will millions of us end up dithering in circles, reaching skyward, waiting for information drops from the content providers and their clever code writers? Apocalyptic scenarios rush to mind.

So many times I have started out to write something, send text via email—and technical glitch BB’s have come flying my way. I’ve spent hours with that friendly voice from Bombay restructuring my email, for instance. Sound familiar?

Back in the early days of network television in the early 1950s, much of it live, when something went wrong behind the scenes, the channel put up a fixed image on the screen while it scrambled to fix the problem.

The image was a kind of target, with closely spaced lines and the head of an Indian Chief in the center. It was the kind of image photographers use to measure the resolution of their lenses. You heard a voice that said: “Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to continue our broadcast at this time. Please standby.” And there was a tone.

You could change channels. There were three networks: NBC, CBS, or ABC. You could wait, or you could turn the tv off and do something else. Things were much simpler then, believe me, not necessarily better, but simpler.

Your devices, what few there were, were not interactive; they didn’t come charging at you to do something. They didn’t press you to download a new update or install a new program. They didn’t overwhelm you. When you went to the soda shop, you had three flavors: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. You didn’t stand at the counter and choose from dozens of flavors, hundreds of channels, thousands of applications.

You had a life.

Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough. If I were younger, I might stay up all night toiling to figure the durn thing out, texting my friends madly for their collective nook knowledge. That’s it; I don’t know enough tech savvy people. I don’t yet text and I don’t tweet. Maybe that’s it. I know that I can reach out and touch a book and page through it without any instruction—old romantic, gentleman writer and reader, that I am–or read the same online. Hey, I know computers. It’s just those pesky little e-readers that—for the moment, hopefully—detain me from taking reading to the next level.

I think I have time to adjust. I’ve been using the computer and the Web for more than a decade now. I think I can slow down, at my age, when I sometimes forget and lose things, and keep up with ruthless change, at a jog trot, stay relevant, find my place on the slower track, keep one step ahead of those who would pack me off to the knackers and the body parts exchange, or one of those awful camps around the corner where I might provide energy in exchange for food pellets and water, running breathlessly on the gerbil wheel.

By Hudson Owen. All rights reserved.