Assorted tales of an information hoarder. This time he rambles on about an old computer. And Her.
There’s something inherently sad about a computer. Especially an old computer, like the shiny, elegant iMac I used to write my two novels. Really sad. I know, this is no way to start a fun little column about the happy vortex of data streams in my life, but still. It really is sad. I’ve touched her keyboard maybe a million times, cleaned her transparent casing and aluminum support at least a thousand times with a damp cloth, looked at her forgiving face for more hours than I’ve looked at my wife’s, probably. And now she’s gone.
Here’s how I decided to let her go.
It really was her
But let me retrace my steps. Yes, to me a computer has always been more than just a thing. A collection of metal parts and wiring encased in a piece of plastic or metal. An object. She would object to that if she could speak, I’m sure. And in a few years time, with all the advances we see in AI, she will object to it in person. It’s just a matter of time. But that’s not the point I’m making here.
A computer is more than just a thing.
It’s the intimacy I felt when I was in contact with my computers. Just think about it, for a second. For hours and hours at a time, you’re superglued to this screen that really is a reflection of your innermost thoughts and desires. Everything shows up there. Pictures of the ones you love, of the things you like to drive, eat, or just plain own. Original thoughts in a diary or blog. Less original but still enjoyable sitcoms or music. It’s all you. Everything you accept and value rests in her hands. Everything that turns you on, sometimes literally.
And yes, for me this means it’s a Her.
Her (2013) – Spike Jonze
Which brings me to Spike Jonze. In his romantic science fiction movie, Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his new operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It’s more than just sentimental. It’s just about every programmer’s and every business man’s wet dream. Imagine this: being able to write or sell an intelligent and autonomous program, that’s so much in tune with your innermost feelings and needs, that it feels like experiencing the most supreme of human emotions. Love for sale. One solution, one product for all.
It’s scary in a very possible way. I understand that. The risk to lose real friends or a physical body to touch, caress, care for. A computer might just interrupt real, messy, stinking, smelling, warm and tender life.
The virtual world will kill the real one, some Cassandra says.
But I’ve only seen the opposite, I respond. The computer is no match for the passing of time.
Another old computer
My beautiful old iMac I called iMaxine wasn’t the first computer in my life, let me tell you. Not by a long shot. Before her, I fell in love with a gigantic doorstep of a desktop, connected to a separate but matching monitor. It had only two color options: Bright Green or Glowing Amber. In the daytime I usually chose green, but in the evenings I opted for the more sophisticated one. It was a Philips computer, and she had no hard disk, only two 3,5 inch floppy disks. The RAM of a fly, basically. She was powered by a Pentium 286 processor, and she felt really warm and glowing. She hummed all the time we were together, because of the big fan in her back.
I used Philly to power a program called WordPerfect, and that’s where she eventually met her doom. She was capable of accepting my caresses, my typing efforts without a problem. She recorded them on another separate floppy disc, but that was about it. No games. No internet connection by the then-ubiquitous landline. And more importantly, the only printer I could hook her up with was some nasty old bugger. All yellowing plastic and expensive cartridges. It only managed to produce square, dotted fonts on thin paper with holes on the sides. It cried out when I hit “print.”
So she had to go. I sold her and invested in a towering Pentium 386 model. And when I finally finished my studies, I traded that one in for a portable Toshiba Satellite. I wanted to roam the world. It was not until my studies definitely ended that I got around to marrying iMaxine. The desktop Apple computer that symbolized my homecoming to a more stable kind of life.
I wanted to put down roots, and she was willing to help me.
Her screen was a sumptuous seventeen inch. She displayed all the colors in the world. Her memory was more than sufficient to do anything I wanted. I started out using a program called Bootcamp, to run a Windows Operating System on the side, but eventually, she won me over completely. No more annoying viruses. No bugs. Internet by Wifi. All the programs I needed she brought in her purse. I bought an external drive, and she used it to make her own daily backups without bothering me in the slightest. Really, she was not a cheap lady, but she was a breeze to work with.
Until she eventually grew slow and tired. Even when I added to her RAM, she couldn’t really keep up. Her final upgrade was Snow Leopard; Lion was too big a mouthful for her. Even Google stopped supporting her elegant body. Really, it was sad to watch her lag behind, trapped in her own time.
For a while, I kept her around, but she just became dusty. Whenever I fired her up again, it seemed to take a bit longer for her to really open her eyes. So yeah, ’till death do us part’ didn’t quite work for us. I wiped her clean, put her on eBay and the guy came by to take her with him. In a big blue shopping bag.
- Author: Stefan van Dierendonck