Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Digital technology: the modern mummification process

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I don’t consider technology a friend. At least not lately.

I recently had my laptop die on me. This sudden and unexpected death meant many files I consider to be important stuff in my life – photos, original plays, essays, poetry, music – were trapped inside my decaying computer. Luckily I had backups of the more important stuff, but some photos and music remained unreachable, leaving me forced to move on without them and in need of a new laptop.

Then a few days after that, my Ipod died. The timing couldn’t have been any worse for all of this, as it occurred no later than a month after paying for a 20-day trip in Europe. And writers are made of words, not money.

Against my better financial and moral judgment, I purchased a new laptop.

I’d tell you more, but it only angers me. It comes down to this – I don’t trust computers. I never have. Even as I type this, I can’t do anything to hide the look of disgust plastered on my face as I stare at the screen.

Computers are ever-changing, and chances are when you buy a new computer, by the time you get it home and plug it in, it will already be outdated.

I like to save my personal files, but still have no way to permanently save them in a way that comforts me. Living in the transient digital age we live in, in a matter of years I’ve transferred my files from floppy discs to Zip discs, then compact discs, before finally moving them to flash drives, which I use today. This constant transferring should further my chances of saving my stuff for all eternity, but I’ve had flash drives fail on me before, which has compelled me to save backups of my backups.

I also worry about storing my data on hard drives. I fear that my backups have a chance of failing on me too, and I wonder if I should save even more versions of my files for backup. But then I ask, what the actual purpose of a backup is, if even that can’t be depended on?

So where is my stuff safe? I need my data safely stored somewhere, because I worry about how I will we be remembered 10 billion years from now, when an alien civilization will come along and stumble upon our planet. They’re going to look at us, analyze us, judge us, and we need to have our things in order when this happens. I don’t want aliens to end up reading all my creative stories on a floppy disc. How silly would I look!

My therapist tells me I’m crazy and I need professional help, but I don’t want the first impression of myself to be one that justifies ridicule. But more importantly, I don’t want to be forgotten.

My problem, however, is this: for a writer to do good writing, he must work in a comfortable environment. Only I can’t write on my new laptop without having stress or worry. It’s so new and clean that I can’t be casual around it. When I get ready to type on it I feel like I’m going on a date with it – I have to clean myself up before I even touch it. I wash my hands, and get so self-conscious that one germ will be transmitted into the keypad, or the oil from my fingers will somehow create a chain effect that will culminate in the explosion of my laptop, putting me out $1,000.

And writers write when inspiration hits. Only I’m unable to condition myself, after blurting out, “I have an idea that will change the world!” to make my next thought, “I should lather my hands with soap!”

I like comfort, and I like to have comforting things in my life that I don’t mind having bruised and battered. I’ve been driving the same car since 2001. It’s old, beaten and it has its issues, and I need to keep Ace Towing on my speed dial, but it’s comfortable to me. I don’t have to wash my hands before I touch the steering wheel; I can accidentally spill a cup of coffee all over the seats, and not have a panic attack as I clean it up. I don’t mind if the car gets dirty or messed up, because I know the car is capable of taking a beating and surviving another day.

But with the new laptop, I don’t feel that. Not yet. There’s a visible distance between the machine and me, a sort of distrust. Every time I type, there’s a part of me that can’t stop wondering, “Okay, now when is this computer going to die on me?”

Not only that, but I_feel decieved because the computer is brand new and untarnished. I have yet to find a fault with the machine, and strange as it seems to say, I’m a bit intimidated by it. I see the laptop as better than me. It hasn’t been worn by time yet – it’s so pristine; everything works on it, it has all the energy in the world, and it makes be want to better myself. I tend to keep my composure around it – I don’t get lazy or complacent, I always wash my hands before touching it, and I try to rise to the pristine level of the new possession, which in turn actually makes me feel like I’m improving the overall condition of my own life.

…Wow. I think I understand why women get addicted to shopping now.

I realize the laptop is new and appears perfect, but I know it won’t last. Soon enough I might accidentally sneeze on the screen, which will begin a snowball effect that will end in me finally being comfortable with it, the way I am with my car. It’s like getting used to a new pet or a family member – it all seems raw for a while, but the chemistry happens naturally, and in time.

I should probably just enjoy the laptop’s youth while it’s still got it. Self-preservation is a part of our nature, and we try to control what we can, but the ticking clock continues to move on us all, perpetually changing the state of things, and my laptop will soon reveal its faults.

But right now, this laptop is serious business – I think even the aliens would be impressed by it.