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A Laptop’s Life

January 16, 2011

Here’s a welcome break from all the serious stuff I’ve been publishing lately. This is the story of my broken laptop and its replacement. It’s published in today’s Bahrain Gulf Daily News.

I returned to Bahrain this week after a short break in the UK. While I was away, I bought myself a shiny new laptop. The old one had suffered injury from an unknown assailant at a recent conference. I had left it open in the press room, and when I returned I found a sinister black line running down the screen. Since then, the line has extended from the top to the bottom, and turned into an ugly green and black smear. It seems that someone had inadvertently dropped something on it and cracked the screen.

A laptop’s useful life is getting to be shorter than a hamster’s. This one was about three years old. When I switched it on it would emit a grumbling, grinding noise. I guess the hard disk was struggling to access all the stuff I stored on it. I’m one of life’s hoarders, and that goes for email, documents and pictures as well as material possessions. Anyway, the green smear spreading across the screen like seaweed at low tide was a sign. Time for retirement.

So I went off to the local store in search of a bargain in the New Year sales.  Half an hour later I paid for a shiny new laptop at half the price of the old one. Twice the speed, twice the memory, and a hard disk three times bigger than the old one. Such is the reality of the computer business. Everything gets cheaper, faster and more efficient year by year. Laptops are commodities these days. Use them, and chuck them away when they stop working. Or at least, that’s what the manufacturers would like you to do.

Once I got home, I switched it on, and lo, it was silent. No grinding, no hissing of fans cooling down an overworked processor.

New computers are like new-born babies. Pristine. Innocent. No secrets, no baggage. Ready  for us to animate them, personalise them and put then to whatever perverse use we might have for them. The first thing I did was transfer all my files and settings from the old laptop. Rather like a brain transplant really.

And then, more like Frankenstein than a new-born baby, it woke and snarled. It started downloading eleven thousand emails stored on my email provider’s server in a torrent that I couldn’t stem. I tried to stop them because I had them already, but they kept coming. In the end I decided to let them come, and then delete them. The whole process took about twenty four hours.

Meanwhile I was bombarded with requests from multiple sources to access the laptop in order to download the latest versions of the software on my “new” computer.  Microsoft alone uploaded 19 updates in one day – some “important” and some “recommended”. Presumably the recommended ones were not important, in which case why did they bother me with them?

Then I opened the web browser. Microsoft informed me that I had a choice of browser. I chose Internet Explorer, only to discover that the version loaded on my laptop will not play videos. So I need another browser to look at YouTube. So now I use two browsers.

My conversation with my new laptop continues. Downloading this, resetting that, struggling to return to the benign, pristine creature that I welcomed to my world a few days ago. Is it superior to the old one? Not really.

And I ask myself: if I buy a new car, do I expect some helpful mechanic to offer to replace the headlights, tune the engine and replace the seat covers within a few days of my driving away with it? I think not.

But that’s computers, folks. Just like babies, you need to teach them, nurture them, feed them and spend money on them. Even then, there’s no guarantee they’ll do your bidding.

Since I wrote this a few days ago, the laptop has continued to behave itself. One accidental consequence of the failings of 64-bit Internet Explorer – I’ve fallen for the delights of Google Chrome.

From → Business, Social

  1. Pascale permalink

    Mr Royston. Please allow me to say one word in regards to your Comment entitled A laptop’s life, one word that could change your life (your life with computers that is!!) : Apple.

    • If I were of a different gender, I would say that you were the snake on the tree in the Garden of Eden. But there the metaphor ends! Yes, Apple, and those sexy wafer-thin laptops. Trouble is, there’s still a serious price differential, as I know from spending a fortune on Apple products for my elder daughter, who was required to have one at school, and has been addicted ever since. My wife actually offered me an IPad for Christmas, and I felt I couldn’t ask her to spend the same for that lovely device as I paid for the workhorse I use in my business.

      One day, and thanks for the feedback Pascale.

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