On Sunday morning, I woke up, blinked blearily, and opened my laptop. Milo—a 12″ PowerBook G4, from way back in mid-2005—has been known to be ornery, but he usually gets his act together after a few minutes of beach-ball death-spinning. Sunday, though, he hung for even longer than usual; impatiently and trustingly, I pressed the power button to turn the computer off, then pressed to turn it on again. And that is when my computer finally bit the dust.
There’s nothing like becoming laptopless during Paper-Writing Season. With a term paper due on Tuesday and no computer on which to write it, I felt bewildered and bereft. Even my well-intentioned plans to cheer myself up hit a series of formidable dead ends. Download an episode of Gossip Girl on iTunes and watch it in my dorm room? Can’t, need a computer. Listen to some music on last.fm? Can’t, need a computer. I spent most of Sunday trying to offload files from my ailing laptop and wondering what to do next. After a few rounds of increasingly drastic salvage attempts, I determined that Milo was really, truly a goner.
Over the next 48 hours, I would realize two things. One: I’m pretty dependent on computers. Two: computers are everywhere.
My dependence on computers is not particularly unusual, at least for a college student. As my failed cheer-up ideas demonstrate, I depend on my laptop because it’s my primary conduit to both work and entertainment. Though I spent plenty of time offline (though the definition of “plenty” is, perhaps, up for grabs), most of my activities depend on a computer, or the internet, at least peripherally. When I realized that I would have to write my paper on litigious women in colonial Latin America, laptop or not, it wasn’t just word processing I knew I’d miss. Most of my readings for the class were in PDF form, scattered across my hard drive. Though I was able to recover them in time to finish up my research for the paper, doing so involved lugging a gigantic external hard drive from library to computer lab to dorm room, and back again. I probably could have used a thumb drive, it’s true. But it didn’t occur to me in time, because that’s just not a situation I ever face—a disconnect between my place of work and my source of information.
In the library and computer lab, though, I acquainted myself with a fact of college life: because we depend so heavily on computers, there have to be contingency plans. Computers break all the time. Working in the personal computer clinic at school over the past year and a half, failed hard drives and corrupt software have become part of the regular pulse of my daily life. So there are computers everywhere, because no one can do their work if they don’t have their tools. I camped out in a miniature computer lab on the fourth floor of my dorm for, by my count, 7 hours on Tuesday morning. The night before, I’d settled down in the library with a loaner laptop for no less than 8 hours; the library keeps them in metal file drawers behind the front desk, ready to be loaned out for library use to temporarily laptopless students. Since I could only borrow the laptop for three hours at a time, I’d trundle down the stairs every few hours, a mess of documents still open on the desktop, and lift up the laptop so its bar code could be scanned again.
In the past year, I’ve thought a lot about computer dependence. I even gave a presentation this summer—stick figures drawn in autoshapes—regarding the pervasive role of computing in the lives of college students. We use our cell phones as alarm clocks; we get out our laptops even before we get out of bed in the morning. I knew all of this, in large part because I experience it every day. Even yet, I’ve never understood the pervasive role of computing in my life better than when, all of a sudden, it stopped pervading.
Yesterday, I got a new laptop. Milo is gone for good; I think it was probably his time. Part of me already misses him. He was a big part of my life.