My computer froze. Nothing, not even the cursor on my track pad responded. This has happened a few times in the last month, so I hold down the power button, let it cut off, and tried rebooting the machine. I have a Macbook, so usually there’s a progress bar during start-up before I log in with my name and password…only two and a half hours later, I still waited for the computer to ask me for this info.
I got my Macbook midway through grad school, around 2009 or 2010. There have been just three major repairs needed in the last year or two. The first was when the display started to deteriorate. The second was a battery swap. Today, the technician told me it was time for a hard drive transplant. Virtually all of my files are on Dropbox. He hooked up my computer to his store-provided laptop so I could email myself a few files that I absolutely needed. Half an hour later, I was upgrading my operating system (they reverted me to Mavericks; I’ve been working with Yosemite), and then I realized that Microsoft Word and Excel hadn’t survived the transplant. These are among my most frequently used programs. Almost all of my files are from one or the other, so all I can really do is write notes on Google Docs and hope I can borrow my brother’s copy tomorrow when I see him.
But what really bothered me about all this is that it brought to home how utterly dependent I am on technology. I like to brag about how I can unplug. A couple of times, I’ve thought about chucking my laptop to the trash and getting a typewriter. Yeah, that’s it. Hammering out stories like Hemingway used to do it. Old school. That’s the real shit.
Romantic as this is, it’s impractical. I mean, when you unplug, you start to realize just how just about everything you do is reliant on computers. Want to submit a story to a magazine? Most take submissions online only these days. Need to get a manuscript to a friend across the country for feedback? Email’s the fastest and surest way. Did your manuscript get lost or destroyed? Print out a fresh copy.
From where I’m sitting, the sad fact is that you’re not nearly as productive on a typewriter as you are on a computer. Now you can make some arguments against that. I was surprised when George R.R. Martin told Conan O’Brien that he writes on an old DOS computer. I didn’t even know those computers were still around. But Martin’s essentially doing what I’ve just described with the exception that his manuscript can be saved.
Part of me would love to get my hands on a Smith Corona or an Olivetti typewriter. A mechanical typewriter works simply though a series of levers. And before you accuse me of being too old-fashion, I’ve never seen one myself. We had electric typewriters in my youth. But the other more rational side of me knows it’s about as practical as using quill and ink.
And so, I remain heavily addicted to technology.