Sickness unto Death

It’s like Nightmare on Elm Street, as my daughter suggested: if my laptop falls asleep, it dies. Actually, that only happens if it turns off. As much as I rail against technology, I have to admit that I get a little choked up thinking about it—my laptop has had its final reboot. Finally back home from a trip where my MacBook died in transit, the local Genius Bar genius told me the frank truth. The on-off switch has stopped working. He was able to take it in the back and get it started with a “hard reboot” and I can’t help but imagine that it involved tiny little defibrillator paddles and a techie with a trendy haircut shouting “Clear!” before jolting the little guy back to life. If it turns off again, though, they can’t guarantee that they’ll be able to bring it back to life. At five years it’s suffering the effects of old age. Planned obsolescence means that you shouldn’t get too close to your machine. Still, with all this talk of artificial intelligence, I wonder if we haven’t given this laptop life. It sits right on my lap every day. It has for five years. It keeps me warm in winter and too warm in summer. It knows my deepest thoughts.

Like Logan, however, it was only planned to live for a few years. Its crystal is flashing, and I’m getting kind of emotional. Yes, it’s been running slower and slower. Sometimes it doesn’t hear my commands. It takes its time waking up in the morning. Still, it has become like a friend. So when the disciples came to Jesus in a panic saying Lazarus was dying, he replied that the sickness was not unto death. Lazarus died nevertheless. And Jesus wept. I wonder if he would’ve felt the same about an old laptop. This machine has been with me through several jobs—it was purchased to help with my teaching at Rutgers, but it has kept me company on many long flights and lonely nights traveling for publishers and trying to remain sane when there was only a whiff of a wifi scent to latch onto. We’ve done a great deal together.

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It can be fixed, the genius said. I have to send it to the iHospital where a new switch will be installed. It will cost a lot of money and if it goes bad again, Apple won’t be able to replace the parts because they don’t keep them on hand all that long. The best solution—buy a new laptop. Spoken like a young man without a child in college. I’m dithering here. I can keep this computer running for a long time without shutting it down. Still, it’s borrowed time. The genius helping the next customer over said, “It’s not a matter of if a hard drive goes, it’s a matter of when.” We’re living on borrowed time. Our devices are meant to be tossed, but my gray matter understands things differently. I like my old laptop, and when Freddie Krueger comes for its soul, I know I’ll be wide awake.

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