Monday, December 26, 2011


My new laptop is no longer so new. I got it in almost-October and now is almost January. But it feels new because it doesn't yet have the thousands upon thousands of files from my old laptop. It is a laptop without history or character. It is empty, like a five-year-old child who has so far learned nothing.

For three months my new MacBook Pro has been nothing but an advanced internet machine. It has allowed me to do Facebook and Twitter faster. That is all. For work, I've had to return to my old PowerBook G4, a workhorse that I have fed innumerable documents and projects and correspondence since 2005. My old laptop is a wise and frail partner. My new laptop is a sleek fling.

For three months I have put off transferring files from my old laptop to my new laptop because the task bores me. Moreover, the task overwhelms me. I am not simply transferring by bulk the guts and spirit of one computer to the other. No, I am going to clean. I am going to select which files to keep and which to discard into forgottenness. I do not want to clutter my MacBook Pro with unnecessary memories, the weight of refuse. I want to start anew.

You have moved apartments. You have moved furniture, which takes no time at all. You have sat at a banker's box overflowing with folders and papers and bills and contracts and newspaper clippings and letters and documents, trying to keep and trying to discard, which takes forever. Moving the sofa is easy. Curating information is hell.

And hell is now. Thousands of inane e-mails clogging my Sent mailbox where the entire body is simply "Yes" or "Hahaha!" or "Check out this link…". Thousands of files for projects while they were in progress -- Draft 02, Draft 03, Draft 04 -- which I consider valuable because they are records of my development, and which I might re-visit years from now -- which I have done. Thousands of pictures I have found on the internet, and which friends have sent me, because they are interesting and/or funny and/or sexy… But I have no idea where to put them. Everything simply remains. Everything has become "I'll take care of it later." If computers give us the opportunity to be organised more pragmatically and efficiently than ever before, then to that, I might have failed.

I want to be organised. I actually am, as my professional matters are handled swiftly and with great care, but as computers become more analogous to our actual lives, I see the wayside expanding as more and more things in my life have fallen. I absolutely can not keep up with casual correspondence. You will likely not hear back from me in a timely fashion unless you have hired me, or I have hired you, or we are thinking of hiring each other. I would like to change that and respond to everyone. I would like to clean up my life, which is why I would like to start with a clean, new laptop.

Why do I care? Perhaps because I am old enough to know what organisation/life means without the aid of a computer; I started e-mailing late, in my final year of university, and I remember telephoning someone to make plans with no texting as recourse to say one is running late. Perhaps because I prefer old technology to new; I still, and expect to always, use my uncluttered and concise paper Preference Collection daily planner, the same beige-page style I have been devoted to since 1995. Surely I care to have a clean, new laptop to reflect my increasingly ascetic lifestyle, where I am learning to discern what I want versus what I need. I have become quite fond of eating hard-boiled eggs with not one touch of seasoning.

And now… I am sifting through six years of Inbox and Sent and files and JPEGs and screen-captures and notes and vectors and bitmaps and drafts and I am daunted. I understand that my MacBook Pro will eventually get cluttered the same way that every household has a junk drawer full of "I'll take care of it later". I want to keep my virtual junk drawer tiny. I want to answer every e-mail, respond to every Facebook message, to force everything to be pat with a tyrranical fist. But as my laptops have sadly become inseparable with my life, cleaning up six years of my computer could prove to be as futile as cleaning up six years of living.

I wondered if my being overwhelmed is a response to technology. Yes, I believe that today we are over-stimulated and over-obligated, but in the case of feeling defeated by tidying up information, I believe we would be overwhelmed no matter what the technology. My old laptop is indeed a facsimile, a diary, of my past six years, but I can still systematically go through each file and delete. Imagine sorting through the last 2,190 days of actual life, itemising and examining every single memory without the option of deleting.

Perhaps I should accept the fact that the junk will grow and when I get my next new computer I will attempt yet another purge. Perhaps I should embrace the scraps as giving my computer character, the same way that a human is the sum of his and her ramshackle history. The e-mails you never responded to. The draft of the novel you abandoned. The relationship that evaporated without explanation years ago, and whenever you are at the same bar you cannot look each other in the eyes. Matters, though unfinished, remain as complete memories. We will accumulate more and they will make our character. My life is flotsam. Your life is jetsam. Our lives are a collection of detritus.

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