You used to be able to go to a store where the cashier would add up your purchases on a cash register or adding machine, and figure out how much change you were owed in his or her head. It was a simple way of selling things, devoid of the benefits of computerized inventory control, keeping track of customer purchasing habits, the printing of coupons, emailed receipts, text alerts for pickups, and all the other things that happen in front of and behind the scenes of modern retail sails.  So computers have made our lives better, right?

A computer outage that shut down Target's cash registers and credit card processing equipment nation-wide for several hours Saturday had many people questioning that assumption.  Some Target stores closed entirely.  Others, like the one my daughter was shopping at Saturday, saw long delays at the check-out lines that happened to be resolved a bit before she was ready to check out (lucky woman!).  The next day an issue with NCR's system made it impossible for some Target stores to process credit card sales.

I am old and grumpy enough to remember when we didn't have cell phones and everyone had black phones with dials on them  Those of us of a certain age remember our childhood phone numbers.  Mine was Decater 2, 2970.  Yep, Decatur 2, not 332.  When I first moved to Lansing you didn't even have to dial those first three digits if you were calling another person with the same 533- number!  With ten-digit phone numbers required by some providers, even for local calls, those dial phones would be quite a burden today.  And they didn't browse the web, report the weather, have text messaging, video streaming, or calculators (to tell you how much change you are owed at the checkout line).  But one thing they did do that cell phones don't do, is they had crystal clear reception.  Voices were clear as a bell, thanks to Ma Bell (AT&T, which was the only phone company in the US).

Can you say that about your cel phosdfghgfdvcf... wait, type that again... you're breaking up!

Years ago I switched from Windows to a Mac because while Windows was polite when it said "Please wait..." it said it far too many times.  Inevitably when my deadlines were looming I would turn on my computer and endlessly wait for Windows to update itself.  That's not to say that Macs and cell phones and tablets don't do the same.  Just not as often.

Web sites can have the same problem.  As I put content into this publication every week I often see the Apple version of "Please wait", a revolving beach ball, especially when trying to choose pictures from an overloaded folder of the newspaper's Web server.  It turned out that adding memory to my computer sped things up, but one folder in particular -- the one with stock images we use all the time -- is just about guaranteed to make me watch my hair turn grayer while waiting for the browser to un-brick itself.  It's amazing we get the Star out on time every week!

And funny little things.  If you use Apple Maps on your phone in the car it shows you the speed limit, and also your own speed.  But if you use it on Apple Carplay, which actually is just more or less a screen that can run some of your iPhone apps in your dashboard, no speedometer.  I thought maybe it was a limitation of the iOS software, but the Waze navigation app does show your speed.

I am a big believer in options so users can customize their software to meet their particular wants and needs.  If the developer doesn't like or use a feature that's no reason to keep it out of her or his app.  Just make it a feature, turned off by default.  Assuming your customers are not exactly like you is a great way to increase your market.  But Apple has never felt that way.  So I still like my Mac and my phone, but I reserve the right to complain about missing features that, as a former software developer, I know are easy to include.  Or I am just old and cranky and like to complain...  Which is fine, because nobody can hear me do that over the phone.

And what about attention span?  Nobody seems to have one any more.  And nobody in history was recorded as crashing their car or walking into a utility pole while staring at their old AT&T black dial phone.

Unquestionably the technology is better today than it was back in the days of dial phones.  That is the message we hear repeatedly.  But is the quality of the experience better?  What do you think?

Between all the "please waiting", glitches, updates, hackers, and the greater learning curve that a lot of the population (including at least half the people I know) resists, have computers really made our lives better?  Ask someone who was shopping at Target Saturday.  Ask somebody who was working at Target Saturday!