My computer is my personal assistant, my confidant, my therapist, and my boyfriend, all rolled into one beautiful, malfunctioning excuse of a machine.
I realize that projecting such vital human roles upon a Dell Inspiron 4000 does make me sound a bit like a late-’90s hacker-geek living in her mother’s basement. But really, let’s be honest with ourselves. How much time do we really spend with our computers every week? Who do we turn to when we’re unsure where our next meeting is? To whom do we appeal when something horrible/hilarious/harrowing occurs and cries to be written down? Who calms us and organizes our lives in times of crises? Who is always there on a Saturday night when we stumble home and realize it’s just us and our duvet again in an under-crowded bed?
Our computers, that’s who. They’ve supplanted the furrier former version and taken center stage as man’s best friends in most of our collective lives. Every last one of us wakes up each day checking our e-mail and falls asleep each night having neatly tucked quality time with our computers into the routine of our nightly ablutions. Every last one of us knows our own computer’s idiosyncrasies — we know how it sounds when it turns on, we know just when it needs to be restarted, and know to put in a CD just so for it to play correctly. Every last one of us spends more time each day staring into the four-sided cycloptic eye of our computer screens than we do hanging out with our roommates. And every last one of us would be devastated if our own “best friend” bit the dust.
With the understanding that such aforementioned dependency upon one’s computer is manifestly normal, I’ll break the chilling news:
On a dark, unholy night two weeks ago, my little Dell clicked once, flickered a bit, then teetered away toward The Light, holding its heart and gasping like a badly-acted villain from a made-for-TV Western. At the time, I was working on a paper due the next day, and I did the only sane thing I could think of doing: I panicked.
First I prodded at the little guy’s power button, checked all its plugs, then waited for 30 seconds on a superstitious whim before trying to turn it on again. Because my knowledge of electronic devices remains staggeringly contemptible in this newly digital age, my next line of offense was to blow in all the orifices of my computer and then try to turn it on again — a technique I learned from playing Super Mario Brothers on a quirky ’91 Nintendo.
After about four minutes, I had exhausted my paltry list of mechanical quick-fixes and decided to appeal to the Computer Assistants for help. Regardless of the fact that it was 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, I called every CA I could think of on his or her cell phone.
Waiting for their arrival, I began compiling a mental list of everything in my life that had just vanished into the ether with an insultingly anti-climactic “click.” Every last academic paper I’ve written — gone. Every shred of correspondence nestled safely in congested Eudora folders — missing. Every song I’ve worked so patiently to download while composing odes of flagrant insolence to Metallica — vanished. Every single picture any one had ever sent me on a Sunday morning beneath the subject line: “do you remember doing this?” — disappeared. By the time I had finished making my list, I had been reduced to a deplorable state of self pity: I was sitting on my floor, cradling my laptop’s cold carcass, and gently stroking the blackened computer screen, repeating with increasingly pitiful fervency, “Don’t leave me now –“
Eventually a CA from across the hall saw the proverbial bat-signal and staggered to my room in his pajamas, bleary-eyed and mumbling, having been roused from a semi-erotic dream about Macs taking over the world. He took one look at my computer, poked at my baby with abject indifference, then delivered the excruciating news: My hard-drive had been called home by the gods of expired warranties. About three minutes later, two more CAs showed up and concurred with CA #1, determining as a group that my little computer had saved its last MP3. CA #3 sprinkled some holy water, said a prayer, and took the little guy away to “run some tests.”
My desk conspicuously empty, I had nothing to do, and I was feeling desperately, yet irrationally, betrayed. I had been taken for a fool by a computer I had trusted so completely! Without warning, without a friendly pop-up reminder, without so much as having acquired a particularly tenacious virus — my computer (the mechanical embodiment of my very being!) simply abandoned me! Had I neglected him? Had I not sufficiently catered to his persnickety digital needs? What had I done wrong?
I was at that early stage in a particularly painful break-up where one blames herself for everything. Scenes from mid ’90s teen-horror flicks swam to mind; I briefly considered running to the nearest courtyard, falling to my knees, and with clenched fists, beseeching the heavens, “take me instead!!!” Thankfully, I decided that such action was much too Jennifer Love Hewitt for my tastes. And anyway, I was sitting on the floor of my room in an old T-shirt at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday morning weeping over an inanimate object. If that wasn’t enough, I had already roused the first infantry of the CA Army from their beds, who, upon arriving on the scene, had discovered me cooing at my lifeless computer. I decided that was pretty much all my ego could take for one night.
It was at that moment of agonizing self reflection that I realized the crucial role such an undependable and un-alive thing had become to me. It was pathetic really. Why had I allowed myself to become so irrationally dependent upon something so — so — breakable? So temporary? I chastised myself for my own impertinence and decided I would endure the following week of computer-less purgatory with stoic grace.
Without my computer beside my bed, checking my e-mail became a harrowing lesson on the social politics of computer clusters. Writing a paper became a test of my roommate’s patience as I surreptitiously commandeered her computer if she so much as left her desk for a snack. Filling the four to five hours a day usually spent aimlessly perusing the Internet, became a sore realization that I had extra time to do the things habitually left to die without a check-mark at the very end of my to-do list.
As I conclude this account, I’d really like to leave you with a positive moral. I’d like to tell you, for example, that I’ve discovered the errors of my ways, reduced the level of dependency I have on my computer, and stepped out into a new world, ready to embrace the possibility of meaningful interactions with real live people. Yet, alas, this is not a happy tale I tell today. The moment my little computer was returned to me, I settled happily into the routines of my former life. I began writing new e-mails, saving new papers, and downloading new pieces of virtual crap, the loss of which will most likely devastate me the next time my computer staggers toward The Light.
Haley Edwards still would rather sleep with her computer than her editor.