Computers and modern life: Reflections from being without a laptop

So the video card on my laptop has apparently died. On the surface it’s been a very annoying ordeal: I was unable to start on my 25 page paper that’s due next week, I have to use a crappy old Dell laptop right now (I didn’t realize how much I loved Thinkpads until now), and I may need to fork over a couple hundred bucks for a new video card/motherboard. On the other hand this has been an interesting case study for technology use and the impact it has on my life.

Even though technically I was without a laptop for about 12 hours (6 of which were spent sleeping) the experience even for just those few hours was striking. First of all, it made me realize just how much I needed my laptop for work. I couldn’t work on my paper. I couldn’t access lecture notes and slides. I couldn’t go on Google. It almost made me wonder how people (including me) went to school before computers. And it wasn’t just that: so much of my routine throughout the day is centered around a computer. I just didn’t know what to do without it.

Which brings me to my second observation. Disregarding the fact that Verizon’s service is nonexistent in 66, I actually didn’t miss that much in terms of communication because my phone has web access. Therefore I could still do a lot of the things I did on my computer: Check e-mail, check the stock market, check sports scores, check the weather, check Facebook, and read news articles from CNN and NYT. Basically if I didn’t have the paper, I would not have noticed too great of a disruption in my communication with the outside world (except reading everything on a smaller screen). This for me was more incredible than anything else. It really goes to show that our mobile phones are no longer just phones anymore, and with Moore’s Law that will only become more and more true in the future. I completely understand now why so many companies are looking to mobile as the future of consumer electronics.

Before I get to my last realization, I want to step aside for a moment and criticize how poor and cheap Dells look, work and feel compared to my Thinkpad (I’m leaving Macs out of this conversation because I haven’t used them enough to get past the learning curve). In particular I miss the full sized keyboard and the full sized Trackpoint button in the middle. Without those two, operating this machine just feels uncomfortable.

To be fair, this laptop is OLD. It still has a square screen and 512MB Ram. In fact, I believe my dad had this laptop when I was in high school. In addition, since it’s a school laptop, I’ve been saving any work I do to my flash drive. So after thinking about this for a bit, I realized that I am basically using a netbook right now (it even runs XP). Now granted it’s not small or lightweight like real netbooks, but functionally it’s a netbook. The only applications I’ve opened up are Firefox and Word. Everything is saved on a separate location. All this machine is really good for is its screen and Internet connection. Incredible. I understand the netbook phenomenon now.

Last comment: One other thing I miss from my Thinkpad is Outlook. I love e-mail, so right now I’m going back to what I did before I got Outlook: opened tabs in Firefox to my BC and personal e-mail accounts, just like I did through most of high school. Speaking of throwback computing, check out this Colbert clip.

P.S. I also miss Google Chrome. As solid as Firefox is, Chrome is just so much cleaner and easier to use. Please hurry up BC Hardware Repair.

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