You may or may not have noticed that I did not post yesterday. Let it be known that this is not due to laziness on my part – I did in fact write a blog post – but to unfortunate circumstances.
My trusted and beloved laptop warned me two days ago that its cooling fan was not working correctly, and that continued usage could lead to unexpected shutdowns, data loss, and system damage. While it bravely soldiered on when I demanded it (and even switched on the cooling fan, although with more noise than usual), the warning got me worried enough to take it to a repair shop the following day.
My girlfriend lent me a laptop of hers a while ago to play Talos Principle (which did not work on my own, because my laptop is at least a hundred years old in computer years and could not handle TP’s young and vigorous graphics), so I have a fully operational computer at my service anyway. (In fact, I am using this very laptop to type this post – while I could technically also type it on my smartphone, that is never going to happen, because I loathe its touch keyboard with loathing as fiery and undying as the sun and don’t use it unless I feel like I really, really have to.)
Unfortunately, I decided to care about internet security a while ago, installed a password manager, and generated strong, unique passwords for all my accounts – passwords which are now safely stored in a database I cannot access because it happens to be on my laptop, far away from me. (And which are not stored in my brain, because strong, unique passwords happen to be quite difficult to memorize.)
I could reset this blog’s password, since I had the foresight/paranoia/healthy distrust of technology to store my email password in physical form as a backup, but I’m hoping I will get my own laptop back safe and sound and soon. Technically, I could change it anyway in the meantime, but doing so feels wrong – like renting out a sick elderly relative’s flat because they might not make it back from the hospital anyway.
It’s curious, really. I am fully aware that my laptop is not a person, that it doesn’t have emotions or any kind of awareness of its own, that it is no more morally relevant or worthy of consideration than a common rock lying in my path, and yet I have feelings for it. The idea of someone else sitting down at my laptop and putting their hands on the keyboard without my permission feels more uncomfortably intimate or even violating than someone putting a hand on my shoulders without permission. (I’ve read posts by disabled people describing how they consider their mobility or sensory aids as much parts of themselves as actual flesh-and-blood body parts, and posts by musicians about how their musical instruments were something very personal and you should ask permission before touching them, and I completely understood those posts, because I feel similarly about my laptop.)
Why? What is the decisive factor here?
Possible answers that come to mind:
1) The fact that I have pictures going back ten years (ever since I got a digital camera for my birthday), including pictures documenting my transition, my music (going back just as far, or even farther), things I’ve written and things I’ve read (or wanted to read) stored there. Much of this data is important to me for nostalgic reasons.
But very little of it would get lost – I don’t make backups as frequently as I should, but it hasn’t been all that long since the last one, and especially the older files are safely tucked away on an external hard drive, independent of my laptop’s fate.
2) The personalization might be another factor. The recently used files, the browser bookmarks, the programs I’ve installed, they all paint a picture of who I am, what moves me, what I consider important, much more than even my body does. And some files literally contain my thoughts, memories, and descriptions of my feelings (current and past) – it doesn’t get more intimate than that. Now, all of it is in unknown hands, to be poked at and prodded and taken apart and put together again.
However, thinking about that doesn’t seem to upset me. Sure, the good people at the repair shop could browse my nudes and read my porn, and that’s not a particularly comfortable idea, but it’s mildly annoying rather than genuinely upsetting. If they find something in there to jerk off, to laugh at, to make crude jokes about… I don’t really care. Good for them. They’ll probably behave professionally towards me in person anyway, out of their own self-interest, and what they do in private doesn’t affect me.
3) The role it fulfills in my daily life and routines.
This factor might actually be the most important one. My laptop is part of my daily life in almost all respects – it’s part of my morning routine (browsing my various newsfeeds and dashboards during breakfast), a big part of my social life (chatting and sharing articles, pictures, videos and other media that matters to us in some way), my work (and I definitely would lose some data irrevocably here – I’ve worked since the last backup), my entertainment (reading, watching movies or series, reading webcomics, social media, you name it), and everything else I might possibly need (looking up information on travel routes and whatever else I want to know, mostly).
The last time I had trouble with my laptop (a busted hard drive), I was left with nothing but my phone, and back then, that meant a BlackBerry – pretty much no apps, extremely slow internet, and generally almost nothing. I literally had nothing to do but sit around and miss my laptop while it was gone.
This time, I have my girlfriend’s laptop. Its keys feel strange beneath my fingers, but also pretty nicie, and it boots incredibly fast (compared to mine), and I can look up information and watch videos and browse webcomics even though I’m locked out of my social media accounts and minus my many, many customized bookmarks. (And I still have access to (some of) my accounts and my social life through my smartphone, so I’m not as deprived as last time in those respects, either.)
It doesn’t really feel like home – there are too many parts missing for that. Sometimes I go to click on a bookmark before I remember I don’t have my bookmarks, or vaguely plan to work out as usual before I remember with a pang of loss that I don’t have my music program (it’s iTunes, because I need it to use my iPod, another ancient device I love dearly) with my workout playlist, or think about doing some work before remembering I don’t have the files and (some of) the programs I need, or that I can’t log into an account I’d need to log into because of the missing password manager.
But it makes me feel like what I’m missing is not irreplaceable. It puts the situation into perspective, breaks the sense of loss down into smaller particles that are easier to digest and smaller issues and problems that are easier to find solutions for.
And when I get my laptop back or have overcome enough of my superstitions to change my password(s), I will probably feel a little bit more at home (and post this).