I knew the minute I heard the clicking noise that it was all over.
My computer had been acting up for a couple days, running the fan more than usual, opening applications slowly. Not one to lose faith in my appliances, I’d just ignored it and hoped the problem would resolve itself.
But when I opened the computer on Sunday morning, it click-click-click-clicked before the screen froze up, the brightly colored “loading” beach ball rotating, as though mocking me, just in the center of the screen. Suddenly I understood why they call it “the spinning wheel of death.”
Then the click-click-click-click, and all that remained was a blank screen with a flashing gray question mark, on and on and on, until I shut the computer down.
No hard drive found.
No files accessible.
OK, I’ll admit: It wasn’t the end of the world. Most of my documents are automatically backed up to the cloud, on Dropbox or Google Docs. I’d backed up the computer a week ago, so my photos and music were all intact. I mostly check my email and calendars on my smartphone anyway. My roommate’s computer was there in case I wanted to watch TV while doing chores, and if I really, really needed it, my work computer was less than a mile away.
But the grim panic that set in wasn’t quite so rational.
There was the cost of buying a new computer looming over my head. As an inveterate Mac user, I’m no stranger to the high price of a new computer, but I’ve always had education discounts (and my parents — thanks, Mom and Dad!) to help out. This MacBook’s been chugging along since my senior year of college, about three and a half years now. My next computer purchase will be the first independent one, the first since I had a job, the first where I had to very seriously balance the cost of a new computer with my limited budget.
And before you say three and a half years is not a very long time for a computer to last (which I did, many times, amidst scattered profanity that morning), consider that I’ve dropped it more than a few times, accidentally ripped out keys from the keyboard, and just a month or so ago dragged it all the way to Rwanda and back. In all fairness, I’ve put the computer through its paces.
Panic over the cost of a new computer slowly gave way to the bleak realization of what my life is. I spend so much time scrolling through Twitter feeds, posting articles to Facebook, typing articles and notes and emails, watching TV and movies on Netflix and Hulu, reading news websites and blogs, editing photos and videos. Yes, I run and swim and bike and hike, but once I get back to my computer I log that exercise on Runkeeper or Fitocracy so I can track my progress over time. I read books, but when I finish I log them to Goodreads so I can rate them and write reviews. And I’m more likely to Google a recipe than I am to sit down and thumb through the index of one of my many cookbooks.
In my more melodramatic phase of grieving my dead computer, I decided that it wasn’t my computer that had died; it was my access to life itself.
Then I realized that that was completely absurd.
It’s incredible what’s available online: the apps, the social networks, the sheer flood of information. But no matter how much time I spend there, that is not, never has been and never will be my life.
That’s when I realized how much sense designated technology-free times make. Online, there’s always something new to read, some new site to sign up for. It’s easy to lose focus of what it’s all for: It’s to help me remember that running route I loved last spring, or that book I read years ago, or to find a recipe to cook one of my favorite childhood dishes. They’re tools to spread information, to augment the real world, but they most certainly aren’t the real world.
So I decided: At least one night each week, I’m calling a moratorium on my computer and my smartphone and my iPod. Instead, I’m going to read a book or practice the fiddle or play a board game with friends or go for a walk or, maybe, just sit and think.
“Heck,” I thought. “I should just get rid of my computer altogether!”
Of course, then I calmed down a little and realized that I didn’t need a whole new computer. For $80 or so, I could order a new hard drive and install it myself using instructions from Apple’s support site and homemade demo videos from YouTube.
Then, later that evening, acting on a tip from a blogger, I stuck my computer into the freezer for an hour or so, then powered it up. While the blog suggested I might buy myself half an hour of time to back up my hard drive, I managed to fit in an hour and a half of “Downton Abbey” on Netflix as well.
So sue me. I like technology.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.