Death by 1,000 errands…or by 1,000 bytes?

BY SCOTT OGLESBY | Modern life is slowly killing me — that’s the recurring thought I find myself musing on lately. As my teeth get longer, it’s getting tough to keep up the urban pace. At times, I tend to blame my hometown, Manhattan, where my rent-stabilized walk-up has effectively imprisoned me in a rich man’s playland, formerly the bohemian West Village.

First World problem, you might think, and of course that’s true; it was my choice to retire in arguably the most expensive city in the world, where a loaf of crusty bread is 8 bucks and a glass of wine, 17 with tax and tip. My wife rolls her eyes at that quip, but she’s got a pension, and calling out my spotty work history is like pointing out a leopard. My extended gig as procurement officer in the counterculture revolution has provided me with all kinds of exotic hooch but precious little financial security. But I’m down with that, no problem, been that, done there, and blah blah.

Keeping food around, the most mundane of chores, is no piece of cake when every trip requires lugging groceries up four flights. (Sixty-seven steps, yes, I counted — that number, amazingly enough, a few years shy of my age.) But I do love the Continental feel that shopping Euro-style embodies with its daily outings. Freshness rules by default as my fridge’s tiny freezer is already hogged by ice, vodka and chilled beer mugs.

My other sins are specialty stores, chasing exotic treats or the affordable pound of organic fair-trade shade-tree bird-friendly coffee. I prowl the Greenmarkets, too, where delivery is not an option and they still take cash. In the big stores, I count out the 18 cents of change into the checker’s palm and grin stubbornly if she drums her nails. They’re lucky I don’t try to cash a check. Then I lug my bulging string-bag home and back up the stairs with its broiled chicken, two bananas, Porto Rico coffee beans, bagels and cream cheese, and sometimes a little broccoli for my neighbor, older than me.

College kids and wet-eared M.B.A.’s have taken over my vintage building. They lope up and down the stairs like gazelles to their gyms, cafes and idling Ubers, and order everything online; the lobby looks like an Amazon warehouse. I’ve seen delivery guys bringing up cups of coffee, for God’s sake, and lately I’ve noticed boxed gourmet dinners waiting on their stoops. Errands ain’t killing off this group, that’s for sure.

In early March, hundreds of extras dressed in 1950s attire were in Washington Square Park where Edward Norton was shooting a protest scene for his new movie “Motherless Brooklyn.” Above, as the extras took a break, a woman took the opportunity to use her smartphone. Norton directs and also acts in the movie about a private eye with Tourette Syndrome. Adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, the New York City flick stars Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe and Alec Baldwin and is set to be released next year. Photo by Milo Hess

My friends push back and tell me those 1,000 errands are keeping me healthy. Could be, but the mental errands of rampaging technology keep stacking up on me. I retired the flip last year and went smartphoning, but my model is already a dinosaur. My best friend insists that I download some new app so we can chat. I told him to upload the phone to his hand and call me — typing ain’t chatting. He calls me an old fogy; and now my sister’s texts arrive with a cartoon avatar that looks just like her and winks at me.

I have more passwords than a nervous spy and they all need changing like diapers. The filter-change light on the humidifier blinks constantly, and that screeching dead battery alert in the smoke alarm scares the hell out of me. Be honest: Do you keep a nine-volt battery around? Send it to me, please; if I order one, I’ll need a new account and another password.

And what about keeping up with friends? Their guns to my head, I joined Facebook, and now I’m the birthday wish purveyor-in-chief, the first-responder to folks I’ve never heard of. Who cares? my younger friends tell me, it’s ancient tech, I should use WhatsApp. What’s that, I ask, but they just laugh and lecture me to never respond to e-mails, texts or anything promptly — the sender will think I have no life. They’re right, the sendee has no life, except for those damned errands. Identity theft will not be my problem.

I’m sure when I die, I won’t get the hundred virgins, I’ll get 100 divorcees and a 1,000 hellacious new errands. O.K., I’m being sexist and acting out, some would say hysterical. Hey, I’ve earned my hysteria. My one-event-per-day limit has slowly become one a week. Who could imagine the thought of being looked after could sound so inviting? When did this happen, is this why folks move to Florida? Am I ranting?

When I began this kvetching I thought it was old-school vanilla errands that were wearing me out: things like groceries, parking the car, recycling and fretting the to-do list. But now I see it clearly — technosophy has replaced thinking.

I’ve reached that age where most of the people around me are richer, younger and smarter than me, but live their lives online and are addicted to their smartphones. What fun is dependence without decadence? On cue, my wife just walked in to tell me a younger neighbor has allowed a Google slave-bot to occupy her apartment. Disguised as a sensual female voice, it’s taken over her Wi-Fi and responds to every verbal command. It seems that the “remote control” has Bluetoothed and migrated to Silicon Valley, an Orwellian outcome long in the making.

On a personal level, I’m afraid this endgame will not be pretty. I can just hear my wife now — “Alexa, would you please talk dirty to my husband, I’m tired tonight.”

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