"ach," says the cheery scottishchap behind the counter. "This doesn't sound good at all."These are not words you want to hear from your friendly neighbourhood computer repair person.
Thirty minutes into my work Monday morning, my computer at home has died on me. No warnings or ominous smells or terrible, memory-jarring crashes. No, the end comes with a click, the kind of sound that makes you go "hmm," and nothing more.
Then all hell breaks loose. An error message saying, essentially, "I'm dying," pops onto the screen and everything stops. When I try to restart the machine, the hard drive sounds more like a post driller than a computer.
When I take it into the shop, the man behind the counter smiles sympathetically, takes down my information and says something about it maybe being a problem with the power source. My suspicious look gets a smile out of him.
"Nah, the hard drive's probably dead. We just tell people it might be the power to make them feel better."
So for the past week I've had no computer at home. Clearly, there are bigger problems in the world, but it's still an odd feeling. I can't remember what I backed up when, but I'm pretty sure the dozens of Simpsons, SCTV and Derrick & Clive clips I downloaded furiously during the last few weeks of Napster anarchy are gone forever. I feel a bit like the kid in Pee-wee's Big Adventure who, after having his bike stolen, keeps seeing people riding around.
For at least 15 years, I've had a home computer. When I'm in my house, it's on almost constantly, checking my e-mail every five minutes, playing music downloaded from the Net, all of it allowing me to feel connected to the rest of the world from my comfy office chair.
In the hottest week of the year, you'd think I'd be thrilled to take a break away from the machine and get outdoors. Just the opposite.
I have a cellphone and a few different e-mail addresses and phone numbers where I can be contacted, but I don't feel like a particularly over-wired person. For all my e-mail checking, my in-box is usually empty, and when I go on vacation I'm happy to shut things down and play catch-up when I get home.
This seems different, though. A few hours after I drop off the machine at the repair shop and leave with a hopeful "Good luck," I'm surprised at how out of sorts I feel.
As pathetic as it sounds, you develop little routines around your computer. Mine involve reading a half-dozen different newspapers from around the world and checking up on a few favourite sites -- www.mcsweeneys.net, www.soccernet.com and www.bonrop.net -- to see if anything interesting or hilarious has happened that must be forwarded to friends.
Sure, I could just as easily walk down to the store, buy the bloody papers and find out what's happening in the world that way. I could also hang out at my office and surf from there, but that's not the point.
I want to be able to kill my insomnia at 4 am by dialling up the Times of India and reading cricket scores. I don't follow cricket, but I want that freedom.
Four days in and I'm going mental, so I borrow a laptop and hot-wire it up in the place where my computer used to be. It's a start, but it's not the same. I miss the little things about my machine, like the psychedelic George Jones picture on my desktop and the Withnail & I "Ponce!" sample that tells me when I've got new mail.
Of course, this could be an opportunity for something new. Maybe I'll get used to spending less time in front of my machine and a little more time, uh, somewhere else.
On second thought, probably not. @