I can’t think

Last Thursday saw the death knell of my laptop. The hard drive began to sing, and singing turned into whining, and whining turned into grinding, and all in the course of about five minutes. The laptop doctor will have it back to me in a few days, and my files are retrievable off the backup unit.

My Patient Husband remarked about how strange it was that my computer could die a horrid death and I could carry on so seamlessly. Once I got all my passwords back in place, I could access my email via web browser on his computer, and once I could do that, I was able to retrieve or guess passwords for most of my online sites (except for the Delphi one. Anyone who visits here from there, please send my regrets. I’m not ignoring you.)

Back when I was in college, hard drive failure would have brought about heart-failure in me. Nowadays it was an inconvenience. The joys of a multi-computer household.

(At the same time, we actually went down one more computer because we got rid of the obsolete one the Kiddos used for playing games and doing homework. We decided it wasn’t necessary to have four computers in the house, and that one was the easiest to rehome.)

My files are here. My email is here. My weblog is here. Why, then, can I not think?

Because you’d figure it would be easy to just  hop onto the new computer, and using exactly the same programs, take over where I left off. Except it’s not. I sit at the desk where my Patient Husband’s Computer resides, and my brain goes blank. 

It’s a host of things. I’m facing the wall. It’s a little darker here. The keyboard is at a different height. The mousehand is different. The entire interface is subtly different on his computer.

But that’s it: subtleties. The dock is at the bottom rather than the side. And yet, all these tiny changes render me unable to think. I had to write a query letter to a new agent, and I spent ten minutes trying on different sentences for one paragraph before I finally deleted the sentence entirely and sent it without. 

I feel I’m wearing blinders. It doesn’t make any sense, but I feel trapped.

My Patient Husband says it’s muscle-memory that’s different. his keyboard is slightly different than mine (again that slightness) and because the interface is so clunky on a computer to begin with, those slight differences get in the way of an easy transition. 

I’m wondering if it’s not less of a sense of ownership. And the fact that he’s customized the life out of his computers so often that even on my own non-customized account on his computer, I feel I’m living in his space. I can’t really relax here. I might do something. Like sitting on your Great Aunt Zelda’s couch, the one covered in plastic slipcovers, drinking tea from a china cup the width of one molecule: I’m tense. I should be fine, but I’m not.

If you were to lend me a pen with green ink and a notebook with non-standardly lined paper, I could write anyhow. I could read your Bible and be comfortable doing so, although I’d notice (and mentally correct) the differences. But this interaction is more complex. The closest I can come is to when I used to work for a rental car company: for the first five minutes in any of the cars, I’d feel I was wearing blinders, uncertain what the car would do for me.

I’ve been using this computer for days, not minutes, and it’s still “fighting” me. I’m afraid I won’t have brilliant weblog entries until my beloved comes home from the computer doctor.  I just can’t think.


  1. Ivy

    Good thing you’re a pen and paper writer.

    I think it comes from both knowledge and confidence, at least to some extent. I can use anyone’s computer. I have to, because fixing them is my job. I can’t count how many times I’ve taken over the machine of an attorney, or even a partner at a law firm, to get something working.

    What I have trouble with is letting other people use my computer. I’ve had too many instances of people installing things I don’t want with ramifications they don’t understand, “fixing” settings that I put in place to support hardware or software they’ve never heard of, and in one case deleting drivers because they didn’t know how to properly access the device. I am a control freak who won’t even leave her laptop alone with the network administrator.

    Even so, you are one of a small handful of people I would trust with my computer. I hope yours is home soon.

  2. illya

    I have used other computers for years. in fact, whenever we commute to the home office we are forced to sit in the telecommuting area and work on perfectly viable computers. But those computers are not mine and I feel strange, as if I will “hurt” someone else’s computer, even though no one owns these computers. They are there to share. So, it is perfectly understandable that you might feel uneasy about a computer that is owned and loved by your Patient Husband. Hang in there. Yours will be back soon.

  3. philangelus

    My Patient Husband tells me there is a similar phenomenon among computer programmers where they spend the first five minutes on a computer getting used to the new system.

    At least I’m not alone in this. Ivy, maybe you’re the Computer Whisperer?

  4. ivyreisner

    I wonder if he’s referring to the generation of programmers who came to it post Windows and after home PCs became common. Those of us who jumped in when you could carry an OS (DOS), a compiler (Turbo Pascal in my case), and all your project files on a floppy, then just boot to the floppy to have your entire environment in place are all computer nomads. Very few of us had home computers starting out, and if we did it was a Commodore, so we’d go to the lab and we’d get whatever machine was available. The mainframe programmers who came before us were in a similar situation. Different acclimation I guess.

  5. CricketB

    I hear you! Sometimes I wonder if I’ve fully adapted to our latest computer, and it’s been over a year. So many rarely-used programs didn’t come over, and I haven’t actually missed them, don’t even know what they are (most were try-once type) but I feel their absence. Like going shopping without a grocery list.

    I can work on other machines well enough. I didn’t have a problem when breaking in the computer at work. I use my parents just fine for holiday email. I’ve done serious work at the library on our rarely-used laptop.

    But that’s not at home. It’s when you think you’re at home that it shows up. You put in the effort to customize it. You know where you put things. Your fingers say, “Yes! The home keyboard!” Your eyes bounce from bills to the screen they’re being paid on and know how to adjust.

    Motion sickness is caused by your eyes disagreeing with your other senses. Using a different computer, but being otherwise at home, is the same thing.

  6. philangelus

    You know, now that you point it out, I think that’s it. I have no problem using my mom’s computer, and that’s a windows machine. Nor did I have problems going back and forth between windows and DOS back in the day, or my windows 3.1 machine and my mac at work.

    But going from one mac to another at home is paralyzing.