Software Update 2.19

laura in wheelchair - 2018 - cropped
Eduardo Suré; Laura in Wheelchair, 2018; Watercolor

Laura opened her wheelchair’s drive management system and selected the customer service counter at her nearest MobilHuman store. The wheelchair’s automation transported her from her living room to her garage, loaded her into her car, and took her to a strip mall. After parking in a handicap space, the car door opened automatically and the chair conveyed her up the entrance ramp to the door. The chair then took her through the building to her destination.

The MobilHuman customer service department was minimalist, bright, and modern. The technology running everything was well hidden to avoid blemishes on the architect’s creation. A handsome young man in his early 20s greeted her with a smile.

“Good morning, Laura,” he said. “My name is Jason. How can MobilHuman enhance your personal transportation experience?”

“I would like a different wheelchair,” Laura replied.

Jason turned to the counter behind him and looked down at the display surface. “I see that you own the Stallion model with the Zippy 2.19 operating system,” Jason replied. “Which of the following best describes the component for which you need assistance: color, seat, wheels and tires, controls, propulsion, battery, applications, or would you like to hear more options?”

“The whole thing,” Laura replied. “I’d like a completely different wheelchair.”

“Sorry, I don’t understand,” Jason said. “Would you like me to repeat the components?”

“Please don’t,” Laura replied. “Look: the chair wanders off, so I want a replacement.”

“I see,” Jason replied. “Has the chair taken you to a wrong location?”

“No, it just leaves when I’m not in it,” Laura replied.

“I understand,” said Jason. “Please give me a moment to look over your service plan and the chair’s diagnostics.” He smiled at her before turning away to face the counter. He maniacally operated the countertop interface like a pianist reaching the climax of a dramatic piece of music. Laura watched him stop to read for a minute.

“Will you be able to replace my chair?” Laura asked losing patience.

Jason looked at her and smiled, “Well, Laura, there’s nothing wrong with the chair. It looks like…”

“But there is something wrong with the chair,” Laura interrupted. “It wanders off.”

“It looks like the chair’s performance is in accordance with Zippy 2.19’s terms of use,” Jason said.

“Listen to me, Jason. While I was at the gym last week, I got out of the chair to use a weight machine. When I was done with my first set, I looked over and my chair was gone. Gone, Jason. Do you know where it went? It was on the other side of the room with some stranger’s phone plugged into it!”

“Uh huh,” Jason replied.

“Three days ago, I went to a bathroom at the mall. I took a little longer than usual. I had a big steak dinner the night before and no roughage: don’t judge me. After I was off the chair for a few minutes, it unlocked the stall door and left the bathroom. It left me in the bathroom, Jason. And it left the stall door open!”

“Did it come back?” Jason asked.

“Well, yes – but where did my wheel chair go, Jason? I am disabled. I can’t walk. I don’t carry a grappling hook to close bathroom stall doors.”

“I apologize for the inconvenience,” Jason said.

Inconvenience?” Laura asked. “It wasn’t an inconvenience. It was cruelty.”

“You may need to adjust your settings, Laura,” Jason said.

“I don’t want to adjust my setting,” Laura replied. “I had to go to work earlier than usual this morning, and the chair wasn’t even in my house. I had to call in sick. I want a different chair.”

“Laura, I can help you change your settings,” Jason said. “They’re all within the boundaries of the terms of use. Would you like me to guide you through your options?”

“What are these terms of use you keep referring to?” Laura asked. “I don’t remember agreeing to anything.”

“You couldn’t update the chair’s software without entering your digital signature which acknowledged that you read and understood the terms of use,” Jason said. “There was a helpful summary in a bulleted list just above the button you clicked to accept the terms.”

“What did the summary say?” Laura asked.

“I can help you with that,” Jason replied. He went to the counter and tapped through the menus until he found the text. “It says that the user agrees to allow MobilHuman and third party affiliates to use the chair while it is idle as a voice and data switch, a vehicle for deliveries weighing less than 75 pounds, as a recharging station, and other services detailed in the agreement above.”

“What the unsalted crackers does that mean?” asked Laura.

“I appreciate your patience while I assist you, Laura. Would you like to change your settings to increase your chairs availability of service to you?” asked Jason.

“No, I do not. I want a different chair,” Laura answered. “And I don’t want it to have any software updates. This chair was actually fine until the software update.”

“I’m sorry, Laura, but MobilHuman only sells chairs with automation,” Jason said.

“Can I go back to Zippy 2.18?” Laura asked.

“I’m sorry, but Zippy 2.19 had critical software patches to eliminate known security vulnerabilities.”

“You know what, Jason,” Laura said, “Just forget it. Thanks for your help. You’re doing a great job.”

“You’re welcome, Laura,” Jason sincerely said.

Laura left MobilHuman in the same chair she went to exchange. When she got home; she took her old manually operated wheelchair out of storage, cleaned it up, and got into it. She parked her automated chair out of the way and chained it to a column in her house so it could not leave.

At first, Laura was happy to use her old wheelchair. Then, she noted that the seat could not be adjusted when it became uncomfortable. She also found it highly inconvenient that she had to reach for her phone to control devices that had all been connected to her automated chair. It was also difficult and time consuming to get in and out of her car. A couple of days later, Laura went back to using her MobilHuman chair.



8 thoughts on “Software Update 2.19

  1. Lol! Great story! I love the phrase “What the unsalted crackers does that mean”. I may have to use it every now and then.

    Technology definitely has it’s perks. This piece could easily turn into a horror story if the wheelchair was acting on it’s own and not a program as outlined.

    Although, I have to say you can tell this is a work of fiction. My son is in a wheelchair and I can never find a free handicap parking space at my mall (it makes loading and unloading quite difficult).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, jrusoloward! I have an ongoing frustration with companies who update their products and make them worse. When I created this story, I thought, “what if they trashed something really important with an update.” I tried to keep it light, but it could have been a horror story as you wrote.

      I’m sorry about your tough situation made tougher by unavailable parking spots. You are welcome to use the phrase – especially when all the parking spots are taken!


  2. Hey! This was great! It made me laugh with empathy as we all understand quite well that frustration of talking in circles and getting zero results. And Jason was so perfectly like the recordings on the phone. Was he an android? My mind went lots of places. Egad. What a crazy situation she was in and I bet You’re not far off. I bet that could actually BE a problem down the road. God!!! Ack. 😳 Damn wonderful, frustrating technology!!! 🤣 Cheers!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, forresting365! Jason was a real person; but his responses were so scripted and routine, he didn’t sound like one. I hope some rules are set up so companies don’t update safety critical technology in the same way they update our other stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

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