” I thought I knew you because“Love Letter to a Computer” by Lok Fung, tr. Eleanor Goodman
all night and day our breath mingles together
for three years and ten months
my name, gender, resumé, and ideas…”
This month, I got a new laptop. I’ll start by saying that this won’t be your typical tech review — I won’t be going over processors or graphics or any of those fancy specs. Instead, I want to talk about what often gets lost in tech-translation: the emotional, existential implications of switching to a new laptop.
As someone who lives rather frugally and is very indecisive, I wasn’t exactly jazzed about the prospect of buying a new laptop. And yet, my former laptop — a 13-inch Macbook Pro — was on its last digital legs. The red flags began earlier this year; my Mac would abruptly shut down at 80%, and then 60%, and then 40%….with every passing week, my laptop’s ability to sustain itself without a charger was rapidly diminishing. Finally, I reached the inevitable endgame: my poor Mac would peace out the moment it was disconnected from its (very short) charger.
At first, I tried getting its battery replaced. This did not work, for reasons I won’t delve into here (in short: my laptop is vintage). But eventually, I realized I had to radicalize my life. Get a new laptop. Start afresh. Thanks to a blessèd coupon that a tech-savvy friend sent my way, I now own a Dell Vostro 5370 for about half its original price.
I grew up using PCs, but have been an Apple-user for the past ~7 years, so the switch was something to get used to. But my new laptop was…welcoming, to say the least. I powered it on for the first time ever, turned my back, and a few moments later heard a bright, clear voice behind me: “Hello.”
It was…my laptop. I could diverge here and turn this into a mystery story or a thriller about talking technology, but that’s already our reality, sooooooo
Anyway, once I got my laptop to stop speaking to me (the audio quality is good, at least), I had to answer a few more questions before I could get my laptop to just take me to the login page. As if my laptop were an immigration officer at the airport, scanning my biographical details and making sure I’m entering a foreign country for the right reasons before letting me pass.
Now, a few weeks into my new laptop, I’ve amassed a list of pros and cons and general observations about my switch from Apple to Dell. Here they are, all mixed up together, as they always are in life:
- First crisis: no em-dash shortcut. This was nearly a deal-breaker for me. I use em-dashes all the time. I’ve used them in this blog post. How? Via copy-and-paste. I searched and searched for ways to make it work but—alas — I’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way for now.
- Interestingly, however, some accidental combination of me pressing random things on my keyboard did allow me to activate some other shortcuts. So, not all is lost. But I still can’t activate my Num Lock. No Luck.
- There’s something very cleansing about starting anew on a new laptop — especially one that will outlive a 3-hour battery life. Nonetheless, starting a new laptop also feels like beginning a new life, one in which your old files and the emotional baggage you carried with/on them are “on the cloud.” Should I mourn my old computer? Or can I rest assured that its contents survive in the limbo state of my backups?
- Switching over to a new laptop may also be, I think, a form of translation. Instead of control, it’s Ctrl. Forget option, we now say Alt. Apple lower-cases everything, whereas Windows uses Title Case. delete is Backspace, which feels more forgiving.
- Speaking of translation, I had quite the trying time installing pinyin on my laptop. At one point, I feared that my new laptop would endanger my efficiency as a translator and typer-of-Chinese-characters. Luckily, I figured it out… (I had to install simplified Chinese pinyin and convert it to traditional in order to get the keyboard input system I wanted).
- I get to turn on my computer using my fingerprint. I also turn on my phone using my fingerprint. Honestly, I love this. Can my computer now get me through immigration?
- My new laptop is much lighter than my previous Macbook. Might this signify a new, general lightness in my personal life? Was acquiring a new laptop, another material item in my life, a way of casting off other intangible and concrete burdens? Like that of carrying my former Macbook charger around with me everywhere?
In Lok Fung’s beautiful poem, “給電腦的情書” (Love Letter to a Computer), she writes to her computer: ” you’ve given me unlimited broadmindedness and broadband” (tr. Eleanor Goodman). ” I used to think we would grow old together” (cue music from Inception). “But you’ve had your moments of betrayal…I pray you won’t ever stare blankly at me again / ignoring every word I type.” Read the full poem here; it’ll strike a chord (or key?) for anyone who has ever loved their computer and let it go. I’ll get to know (and love) my new laptop soon enough. But as I end this post, let me say goodbye to a mostly-faithful laptop that has served me well (or did I serve it) in its short but productive life—