The Loss of the Digital – Reflections on the Demise of my Laptop

Note – This was originally posted at P4 in November of 2015. As I’ve discussed elsewhere I’m no longer married, but I don’t feel like editing her out of this essay.

dotoceanThe bond we as humans form with our electronics is a strange — yet increasingly crucial — connection. The machines become extensions of our “souls”, as you will; a digital copy of our likes, dislikes and everything in between. Memories, favorites, private information — all become components of the CPUs and hard discs of computers, smartphones and tablets powering many of our lives today. And when something happens to one of those devices, it can almost feel like something within you has withered. A part of your essence becomes lost as the electricity stops flowing inside.

This experience happened to me earlier this month. My wife and I were having a discussion about schoolwork, and my laptop screen was distracting me, so I closed it. Ten minutes later, I reopen it to find a black screen — a void of darkness greeting me in a then-unrealized death throe. Startled, but not alarmed, I tried a hard reset. That led to the unfortunate revelation I was not anticipating: my digital ally had killed itself silently; its hard disc failed.

One new laptop later, I still contain an immeasurable loss for my old system, primarily because it holds key files I neglected to back up. My book project stings worst, as I had failed to create a copy of it in over two years, and upon discovering that glaring oversight I felt a resounding thud thunder within my brain. A project done for a professor at my old school had also vanished; thankfully, he already had the files he needed. My own research project suffered a setback, too, as some transcriptions and one interview flitted away from me — a definite shock, as I had made doubly sure to back that information up. Somehow, it was not stored on our primary backup medium, and I can’t recall where I actually did store those files beyond…well, my now non-functioning laptop.

It was after I had come to terms with the absence of information I had transferred from two previous systems to that final resting place — two or three weeks later — that I felt comfortable talking about it here. And when I began the process, I was reminded of my essay on my virtual half, and how suddenly I feel like that half suffered a mortal wound with this event. How fleeting the digital portion of my life can be. My original NES — the arbiter of my passion for games — doesn’t work any more. Thus I hold a shell of a treasure that once generated countless memories, pleasures, and reliefs for those very reasons; yet the actual game playing functionality of the device has given up the ghost until I repair it. It’s crazy how I could develop such strong attachment for a game console. I tossed my Gamecube and Dreamcast when their disc drives failed — alternatives presented themselves that gave my clinging tendency reason to let go — but that very Nintendo Entertainment System that gave rise to the digital life I cherish still dwells in my house among its newer cousins and rivals. I hold onto notions of fixing it, but I’m almost terrified to try. A silly reaction, as it doesn’t work in the first place…but the worry lingers.

I find examining my attachment to the digital a fascinating exercise, one that unfortunately isn’t always pleasant in nature. But my laptop’s untimely death has provided me some catharsis in the form of understanding and appreciating how dominant that half of me is. I hope to get the hard disc to a PC tech who may be able to extract the files from it, allowing me to unify my laptop with the lost elements I failed to back up. And I will be better about it in the future. But ultimately, as Lady Cluck comments to Maid Marian in Disney’s spin on Robin Hood: “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” And I miss what I lack, and I really want it all back…to make me whole digitally once more.

Originally posted on P4 on 11/25/2015.

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