Amelia, the Macbook Pro I’ve had since my last semester in high school, is in a coma. Last Tuesday, I opened about a dozen text files saved in half a dozen formats and had to hard shut her down when I saw the spinning rainbow circle of doom.
She never really woke up. The flashing folder-with-question-mark was the closest I got to her start-up cycle, and that was if I was lucky. Mostly she sat with a gray screen, getting hotter and hotter, her fans whining and her hard-drive clicking.
I rarely regret placing so much of myself in technology. My phone remembers more about my friends than I do, and Amelia had 3 years worth of Sticky-notes and bumper-stickers making her more than a computer. She was my constant companion, my gateway to conversations with Matt and my refuge in internship application season.
Like the Velveteen Rabbit, the more I loved her, the more real Amelia became. When I took her into the IT shop this morning, I introduced her to the IT guys with more formality than I would have a friend.
But unlike the Velveteen Rabbit, there is no Real Computer that Amelia can become.
All is not lost. The emotions I put into Amelia (and Susan Sto Halit, my laptop before Amelia) are not lost merely because her technology has failed. The memories I have from using her–talking to my family in my first weeks as a Freshman, applying for my first internship, eating lunch in DuPont circle with her in my lap–are stored in a disc than can never be wiped.
Confidant, Communicator, Computer
December 29, 2006
February 16, 2010
She will be sorely missed.
And while the Boy was asleep, dreaming of the seaside, the little Rabbit lay among the old picture-books in the corner behind the fowl-house, and he felt very lonely. The sack had been left untied, and so by wriggling a bit he was able to get his head through the opening and look out. He was shivering a little, for he had always been used to sleeping in a proper bed, and by this time his coat had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was no longer any protection to him. Near by he could see the thicket of raspberry canes, growing tall and close like a tropical jungle, in whose shadow he had played with the Boy on bygone mornings. He thought of those long sunlit hours in the garden–how happy they were–and a great sadness came over him. He seemed to see them all pass before him, each more beautiful than the other, the fairy huts in the flower-bed, the quiet evenings in the wood when he lay in the bracken and the little ants ran over his paws; the wonderful day when he first knew that he was Real. He thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.
And then a strange thing happened. For where the tear had fallen a flower grew out of the ground, a mysterious flower, not at all like any that grew in the garden. It had slender green leaves the colour of emeralds, and in the centre of the leaves a blossom like a golden cup. It was so beautiful that the little Rabbit forgot to cry, and just lay there watching it. And presently the blossom opened, and out of it there stepped a fairy.”–The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams.
You do have a backup, though, right? I’ve had some of the same attachment you describe with my computers, but it gets weird when I move the data. One of my computers I completely rebuilt–is it still the same “person”? In another case, I moved all of my data from my old Angel to my new Beast. Does the identity move with it?
We may very well encounter such identity issues with humans within our lifetimes if the futurists are right and we will finally be able to “upload” ourselves into computers…
Well, I don’t have a backup *in Qatar*. But I’ll be in Washington DC this Spring Break (next week) and I think we’re buying something new. Any recommendations? I’m tempted to go with the cheapest Mac I can buy, but am also attracted to the idea of an open-source netbook.
I would argue that people have always placed aspects of themselves in things, and then suffered when the things degraded. Whether in _The Picture of Dorian Gray_ or in the Sunni prohibition of images of God (because to put God in a thing is to degrade God), I think we’re looking at a very old problem.
But I am interested in the “uploading” concept–would uploaded hackers being susceptible to viruses ala _Snow Crash_? Could an Alzheimers patient support his life-functioning with the help of a program which filled in his memory gaps? Fun stuff, thanks for bringing it up :-D.
Sad story. I thought it was nice to name a computer but then I realized I am a guy – I would fall either into creepiness (giving my computer a female name) or campiness (giving it a male name).
Great Post. Really it will help lot of people. Thanks for the post.