My latest laptop, the snooty MacBook Pro that distains communicating with its elders, had a nervous breakdown recently.
“Well,” I said, when I took it to the Apple store for repairs, “it serves you right. You treated my beloved Macintosh SE despicably. Now it’s your turn to suffer.”
I haven’t yet got over the shock of discovering that the new computer refused to exchange information with the old. It was the worst display of ageism I had yet seen. Having to retire the SE from service when it was in excellent working order nearly broke my heart.
As a result, I haven’t been able to bond with the MacBook Pro. On the contrary, I’ve grown to hate it. Hate, I realize, is a harsh response to betrayal. To justify it, I invoke a corollary of the Christian principle “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I hate the machine, but love the machinists, whoever they may be.
I suspect the hatred is mutual. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the breakdown was self-inflicted, just to spite me. The timing is suspicious, too. Before staging its dramatic collapse, the haughty machine waited until my one-year warranty had expired.
But computers aren’t as smart as they think they are. Apart from rapidly simulating a number of ordinary mental activities, they’re really quite stupid. What the laptop failed to grasp is that when I paid for it with my credit card, the issuer insured it for double the time it was under warranty.
“So, my ageist upstart,” I declared, “see if you can compute your way out of that.” It couldn’t, of course. Without intuition, imagination, empathy or faith, mere reason, whether real or simulated, is prone to rational error, the worst kind.
The main symptom that sent me seeking professional help was an erratic cursor. Sporadically, it refused to stay put, rushing to the top of whatever document I was reading or writing. If it took off while I read, its departure was an unwelcome interruption. If it did so while I wrote, its upward flight was a catastrophic revision, as it left a muddle of mangled words in its wake.
I discovered that I could sometimes stop the unwanted behaviour by simultaneously pressing the option and command keys. But this awkward maneuver brought only temporary relief, not a permanent cure.
Because it controls the cursor, I suspected that the multi-talented track pad was the source of the trouble. I suppose I should have suspected it in any event, as it’s the part of my laptop I hate the most. It performs so many different functions that I’m forever clicking, tapping, scrolling, swiping or pinching it with the wrong fingers, in the wrong places or at the wrong angle and accessing what I don’t want instead of what I need.
I don’t deny that the laptop is user-friendly. It’s just not friends with me. This, no doubt, explains my mixed feelings when it had to cue up for repairs. That I wasn’t able to write and do research with it for several weeks disappointed me. That I had an unexpected break from our frustrating relationship pleased me.
Suddenly, there were no e-mails to open, updates to consider, urgent messages to process, breaking news to absorb or intrusive advertisements to delete. Although I still had essays to produce and deadlines to meet, I enjoyed writing the first drafts long hand. I especially enjoyed not having that fool laptop question my spelling and grammar as I wrote. Some of the proposed corrections I appreciated. But most, though rational, logical and consistent, were quite wrong. Computers can’t cope with the irregularities of language.
I also had more time to read printed books and periodicals. There’s an intimate warmth in turning pages that scrolling down a screen rarely, if ever, creates. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam captures the feeling when it links a book of verse with a flask of wine. Of course, if you spill wine on a computer you could ruin it. Do the same with a book and you enhance its colourful history.
When, finally, I brought my laptop home, I couldn’t make peace with it. I couldn’t even call a truce. That devious machine had refused to misbehave for the technician chosen to fix it and he signed off with the cryptic comment that the issue didn’t appear. Well, the issue appeared for me shortly after the laptop’s return. It only disappeared (I hope) after I finished this essay. Maybe the crafty computer was trying to sabotage it.