My Compaq Presario C300 notebook is being decommissioned. I’m putting it out to pasture. It’s given me four and a half years of service but I haven’t got any jobs for it to do any more. I’ll try and not be too profound and ridiculous about it, but I figure there’s a story in here somewhere. This is my attempt to try and tease it out.
I bought this machine in early 2007, a couple of days before my first week at university. It was my first portable, and my first computer that I had bought for myself, from new. I’d always hogged the family computer, and in recent years I’d gotten a hand-me-down desktop from my Mum’s office, but this was different. the costs of manufacturing a laptop had come right down by that point, and instead of having to shell out thousands for a decent machine like five years earlier, anyone could pick up a Dell or Compaq machine pretty cheaply. It felt like a huge extravagance to me, but I suppose I thought I’d struggle to write essays on the workstation, which I had since set up for recording music. It came with a cashback offer, a classic marketing dick-move retailers use to get people to buy cheap laptops. There was a rubbish Intel Centrino chip in it, 256mb of RAM and a 60GB hard drive. It was nothing short of bog standard.
It had a hard life. It was reformatted five times. It went through four batteries and probably the same amount of shitty power adaptors . I cheaped out on it, but hey, I was a student working in a supermarket. It cost less than half the amount of the MacBook Air I’m writing this on now. A few years ago a permanent blue line appeared on the screen and never considered fixing it, not even for a second. Battery life on it was average at best, I struggled to get three hours out of it. It came along with me for one of my first weeks at uni and went back to the pen and pad the next week. I couldn’t live with having to sit next to the powerpoint all the time.
But this machine was a powerful tool for me in an important part of my life, facilitating many burgeoning passions during an impressionable time in my life. Every single essay I wrote for university came from those keys. From my first one thousand word sociology essay to the fifteen thousand words of my honours thesis, I sat over those keys for hours at a time, sometimes writing, sometimes looking for things to distract me from writing.
It wasn’t just work though. I started to become interested in soccer about that time, and I watched dozens of dodgy streams of riveting Premier League and Champions League matches at all hours of the morning. I saw Yossi Benayoun score a last minute header for Liverpool at the Bernabeu and Dirk Kuyt hammer home an extra time winner off his shin against Standard Liege. That Kuyt effort was a jammy goal that earned the club around £20 million, extraordinary drama. Torres’ sumptuous Cruyff turn against Blackburn, or the preposterous 4-4 draw against Arsenal, when Andrei Arshavin scored four magnificent goals at Anfield. Even if you don’t understand any of what I just said, you can probably at least appreciate how vivid the memories are that I’m calling upon. I didn’t have pay TV at the time, so it was often the most practical way to watch these matches. These days, I’m thoroughly engrossed in the sport.
It also was the machine I used to discover and watch some of my all time favourite television shows. Many times I would sit up to all hours of the night, slamming through episodes of a new series I’d acquired. Looking over at the clock, it’d be 2am and I’d have to get up for work in four hours, but I’d still watch one more, knowing that I’d pay the price when the alarm went off.
It is easy to overstate the importance of any one computer. It is just a tool that I used to do work, watch things and surf the web. But what we should not take for granted is that computers, defined broadly, make possible what previously would have been impossible. My passion for soccer, television or writing may not have developed into anything meaningful if that computer hadn’t made those things relatively easy.
We should not take for granted what technology makes possible for us in our everyday lives. Computing is not without its drawbacks and compromises. Every societal transformation carries with it friction of some sort. But the next time you Skype with a friend or relative from overseas, find a great book or band, or share a beer with someone from an internet forum, you probably won’t think about the central role your computer played in the real emotions you are experiencing in that moment. Such is the role of tools of the modern age. They allow us to take our knowledge and recreation to higher planes.
The human mind is capable of far more than rote learning and simple recollection. Any time we store information in digital form, we lighten the cognitive burden on ourselves and create opportunities to perform higher order functions - connecting, analysing, creating. Our tools define us in many ways, and I’m grateful for that.