Last Wednesday night, I unintentionally abandoned my Macbook Pro in Periodicals. It was one of those evenings where I was comparing myself doing my homework to an asthmatic sherpa climbing Mt. Everest, and so when I finally summited, I was so slap-happy stupid with fatigue I headed straight out the door toward a spontaneous DJ lesson at the WNUR studio without a backward glance.
Sometime between the hours of 1 and 9 a.m. that morning, the digital hub of my soul found a new owner. I hope it misses me. I often picture it sitting at the desk in the moments before its abduction, innocently displaying all my creative and intellectual output of the past two years inside a shiny $1000 silver box (I doubt this new owner will read my 15-page essay on gender duality in Black Science Fiction, which is sad, because it has a lot of big words and makes me sound really smart.)
POINT BEING, I have been without a laptop for the past five days. To use a computer I have to sit in one of those carrels in Circulation, where one of the staff members sits on an uncomfortably nearby chair and glares at me over his newspaper. "Go ahead and try eating another apple in here!" the glare suggests. I have started staring back, but he doesn’t seem to find it as disconcerting as I do.
When you don’t have a laptop, time has a way of folding in on itself so you have simultaneously more and less of it. More, mostly. Like me, you probably spend at least 8 hours online every day doing various tasks, some of which are utter bullshit. But less, also, because you lose a lot of structure. You can't get to your iCalendar without poking your iPhone repeatedly for about 15 minutes. You have no way to track your assignments - well, you do, but it takes planning and foresight, two skills you might have traded in for their technological equivalents a long time ago.
Although I visit Circulation occasionally, I’ve been doing almost all of my work sans computer. Surprisingly, it takes way less time. I guess it's because I'm not doing five billion things at once. Now I have more free hours than I know what to do with. Mostly I’ve ended up spending them on silly activities, like reading weird short stories or decorating my jean jacket or forcing my friends to teach me how to longboard in the Bobb hallway.
Then again, I do silly things on the Internet too, like refreshing my email every five minutes or cycling through my little sister's prom pictures for hours. But the Internet itself tells me I shouldn’t be pooling my time into these things, which is a strange discrepancy. I’ve been thinking more about the gap between my words and deeds, and it turns out the discrepancy there is strangely huge, too.
I’ll tell you a secret: sometimes I love it when my iPhone dies. Especially when I’m going out. For the rest of the night I have no idea what is going on in New York or the Middle East or in the frat quads. My friends cannot find me. I am a one-woman band with creative reign over my evening, and often I twist it into a cool adventure of some kind, a couple of hours meeting strangers or jumping in the lake or just alone with a best friend I lose touch with sometimes.
Of course, it is scary too. Apart from the FOMO even. My iPhone is my gateway, so losing that gateway is like getting my umbilical cord cut all over again. No, it’s like I am Neo from the Matrix movie, and I’ve been ripped from the cord that was plugged directly into the base of my head. I am forced to see things, like the men outside of CVS and Pret with lives that are dirtier and scarier than mine, who tell me I am beautiful and hold empty Andy’s cups that probably never held any ice cream but now hold a couple of pennies. I still say no, but I look at them directly, because there’s nothing in my hands to look at.
Not having a laptop is the same way. I walk into a café and for the first time, I notice that even though everybody is dressed differently, their eyes all look the same. They all have the same bluish-white glow at the centers because they are all trained toward Apples. I feel bad for the word apple; aside from giving Gwyneth Paltrow’s kid a bad name, its prominent role in marketing a radiation-emitting device seems downright wrong.
(Oh, wait – no, it’s very clever, actually. I looked up why, and it turns out Steve Jobs wanted to come before his then-primary competitor Atari in the phone book listings. What a genius.)
Every time I tell a person that my laptop is gone, the reaction is the same. Hands clap across their mouths. Their eyes widen until they are the size of poker chips.
“How are you not freaking out right now?” they exclaim. “My laptop is my life!”
“Mine, too,” I tell them, with a little neurotic giggle. My limbs wrap around themselves and then unwrap. I am feeling antsy, computer-withdrawn, but kind of good at the same time. Maybe I will go jump in the lake tonight.
“Wow,” they say, finally. “You’re handling this so well.”
“Nope,” I say. “I’m just not living in real life right now. In fact, I’m kind of fucked.”
If tech nerds are right about the upcoming singularity, and our laptops will indeed become (and further augment) our real lives, then I will be fucked.