Saturday, February 10, 2007

On Computers and the Journey

I've got my computer back, if you're following that story. The $160 estimate turned into a $350 reality. I think it was one of those things where they looked under the hood and realized that there was a whole lot of problems they could fix... I've essentially got an entirely new computer inside my old computer's shell.

I suppose that's good. Since the hard drive was worn through, it wasn't as though they could just remove WinAntiVirus and be done with it. Maybe I got taken advantage of; I suppose I don't know. At any rate I've got the best of everything, right now (not Windows Vista though -- the tech guys said to wait a year before purchasing it so that Windows could knock out all the bugs).

They were also able to transfer some of the old data; that is, I've got all my documents, music files, and photos. I lost a lot, though. All of the programs that came with the laptop when I first purchased it (Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, InterVideo WinDVD, iTunes, etc.) as well as all of my customizations (read: games -- I don't go around calling my concoctions Mid Tonics for nothing, and I am, for all intents and purposes, a Squaresoft whore).

This is the fourth time I've lost a computer. Well, I don't mean to put it that way, exactly; it's not as if I go around breaking hard drives indiscriminately. But computers change and upgrade so often that in the twenty years I've been using them, I've "lost" four.

The first was an old thing from the 1980s that my father used to write his dissertation. It took floppy disks and featured Pong. I suppose I'm a bit of an extraordinary child in that there was always a computer in my house when I was growing up -- I've been using one for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I learned how to program in BASIC and wrote Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style games for this machine. I also wrote disks and disks of short stories, plays, and half-finished novels.

In junior high (that would be about 1996 for those keeping track) our family bought a Macintosh. It was the only time when buying the Mac was the bad choice. Mac had yet to earn its "does not crash or fill up with viruses" badge, and at this point in its history had only earned the qualification of "not being able to run any software anyone might actually want to use." It was a glorified word-processor. I played Myst, because Myst was the only game that could be played on a Mac, and continued to write stories. On this computer, I completed a novel.

When I started college, my family ditched the Mac and got a PC. I, meanwhile, got a PC of my own (provided by my university as part of my scholarship). I filled it up with games, since I could finally buy games that would run on the machine, as well as music and video files (I started college the same year Napster did). There were also the usual stories and poems, as well as plenty of research papers. This PC lasted for five years, until it essentially choked under its own weight. I filled the hard drive to the brim, and when I was applying to grad school I would have to delete one old paper to accommodate every new "Dear Graduate Director So-And-So" letter I wrote.

Upon acceptance to grad school, I bought the laptop. This would be the first time going Windows was the stupid route, and I kick myself daily for not investing in the iBook. Two firewalls and three virus detection programs and I still got overrun. And now... the same outer core, but a brand new inside. The opposite, I suppose, of Botox.

Here's the sad part of the story. Nothing from the old computers has ever been able to transfer to the new computers. The 1980s computer took floppies which could not be used in the Mac; the hard disks in the Mac and the PC were technically the same but the software was non-compatible; the laptop only took CDs. So, with every new computer, I had to make a choice. What to save, and what to let go.

From the first computer, I printed out a single play; the best, I thought, of my work at the time. From the Mac, I printed my novel. I loaded up about seven hard disks from the PC, most with research papers, and spent a full day in a computer lab painstakingly transferring all the files and altering them so that they could be burned onto a CD. I couldn't take any of the music or video, since the files were all too large to fit onto a disk. Probably fair punishment for downloading them in the first place.

But there are things, now, I regret. My sixth grade self didn't have the foresight to save my kindergarten and first-grade writings. Both the Mac and the PC had music notation software programs and I wrote several compositions... none survived. And I do sincerely miss having access to the complete works of Stephen Sondheim.

I'm only telling this story on my blog because I've always kind of felt that changing computers is like changing countries -- of course, I've never actually moved to another country, so what do I know what I'm talking about, but I'm thinking of the idea that for many people, moving means everything one owns must be distilled down to a single suitcase or trunk. The image of a man holding up two beloved objects and saying to his wife "this one, or this?"

And now, of course, so much is stored on the magical internet -- I can't tell you how many letters I've lost when I transferred email systems. Even this story I'm telling now will soon pass out of record, the files flying away and the 0s and 1s getting lost among the radio waves and satellite feeds that float around us in the air and that, somehow, we breathe.

I can handle not having many possessions because I keep my world on my computer. But even in this simplicity I am not protected; life is always on the move and we must always choose what to take with us and what to leave behind.


alpha said...

Hey Blue,
I was quite intrigued by this white woman in blue salwar... It is truly pretty. You have an infectious personality as I did go thru a few posts..will come back and read more. I am sure you'll enjoy your experiences anywhere you go. Good Luck.

Blue said...

Thanks, Alpha.

Your blog is very fun and witty too. (And we both like to cook!)

I'm adding you to my blogroll.

alpha said...

Thanks Blue. Dal rice is nothing but dal and rice combined. Its like soul food for me. If I have no sabzi, I have it with pickle (the Indian variety). Priya pickle Mango Ginger variety is the best , but sadly made only for the Indian market. Try getting your hands on that when you go to India.

Anonymous said...

This made me think, quite strongly, of Arcadia.
Lovely post. Miss you!

Blue said...

Arcadia! Okay, I'll let you remind me of the play (different from reminding me of the production).

Did you know that Stoppard wrote a play called Indian Ink which is, essentially, Arcadia in India (literature profs running around trying to find a lost document which would prove that someone really un-famous did something really famous, interspersed with scenes from the past letting us know what "really" happened)???

Oh, Stoppard.

Daniel said...

So, I know you sent this to me a long time ago, but I'm only now getting around to reading it.

I had to comment on this post, though.

If you need the complete works of Stephen Sondheim, I've got'em. Well, all but Sunday...I still can't bring myself to buy the cd. I guess it's because Mandy Patinkin barks like a dog on it.

I do, however, have 3 recordings of Sweeney and 3 of Pacific Overtures and 3 of Company and 2 of Into the Woods and tons more. :) How to get them to you is, perhaps, an issue, but we'll figure that out, I'm sure.

Hell, I even have Passion...and I hate Passion!

I'll comment more once I get to the most recent one. :)

Anonymous said...

At me a similar situation. Let's discuss.

Anonymous said...

And not so happens))))