Jessie Raymond: Me and my computer, groaning and whining

In case you were worried, my computer is fine.
This is not a tale of sudden tragedy in which, for example, my PC crashes and I lose a year’s worth of business records because my rewritable CD backup fails. (That was almost 20 years ago. The recurring nightmares have all but stopped.)
But the computer I have now is old. How old? No idea. I don’t remember where I bought it, or when. I don’t think we owned it when we last moved, 13 years ago, but I can’t be sure. Maybe it came with the house.
Until last week, when I started it up in the morning it would whine and wheeze and slowly, so very slowly, boot up, giving me ample time to drink a cup of coffee and stretch my hip flexors before sitting down to work.
I, too, take a while to warm up.
There wasn’t technically anything wrong with the machine, which I use strictly for bookkeeping, other than age and a tendency to take a long time to get going. And maybe because I saw something of myself in that, I was more accepting of its gradual decline.
I can’t pinpoint a moment when something as simple as processing payroll became a weekly test of my patience, but there was no question that every interaction had become a slog.
The computer just seemed, metaphorically, to always be walking into a room and wondering why it went in there. When I double-clicked on a file, for instance, nothing would happen.
“Double-click,” the computer would murmur. “Double-click. Boy, that sounds familiar, but I can’t quite… Huh. That’s a real stumper.” Finally, after I had spent minutes groaning and glaring at an idle screen, it would respond. “Oh, wait, now I remember: ‘Open file.’ Here you go.”
Every command, from “save” to “delete,” paralyzed the computer for long spells, to the point that I would often wander away in boredom or frustration and forget until hours later that I had been in the middle of a task.
By then the computer would have nodded off into a deep sleep, requiring me to start the process all over again, complete with the whining (the computer’s) and the groaning (mine).
Though I see now that this was unacceptable, I had become accustomed to it over the years. And I suppose I would have lumbered on that way indefinitely had it not been for an impending business software update.
In January I began receiving warnings with every startup that on May 31 the world would explode. Not really, but almost as bad: Our current payroll subscription would expire.
I depend on the payroll service to keep me in good standing with Mark’s employees, the Vermont Department of Taxes and the IRS. Still, I ignored the warning (“Pay us lots now!”) for a couple of months. I blame this on my frugal rebel persona, which also refuses to heed “low ink” alerts until the printer quits in protest.
But there was more to it.
Procrastination often has its roots in something deeper — an underlying hurdle that makes it challenging to tackle a problem. In this case, it was the condition of my aged computer. The upgrade notice mentioned, in an airy footnote, that the new and improved software would not run smoothly on a machine with so little RAM.
In other words, my absentminded tortoise was about to become an amnesiac sea cucumber.
With May upon us, and with increasingly ominous weekly threats (“Upgrade now, or else. We know where you live!”), my reluctance to face the likely truth — that I’d have to buy a new computer in addition to paying for new software — gave way to a sense of urgency.
I took the machine to a tech in town and braced for a dire prognosis. But it didn’t come. Assuring me that the computer wasn’t too old to fix, he souped it up with new RAM and a faster hard drive, and now it runs like new.
Just like that.
While we could have a good laugh about all the years I put up with a barely functioning computer for no good reason, let’s focus on the positive. The rejuvenated computer starts up quickly, with no whining. It functions without delay or hesitation. It no longer walks into a room and wonders why it went in there.
I’m delighted.
And more than a little envious.

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