You can’t remember when you turned your laptop into a desktop. Maybe it was one year ago, or maybe it was three, but there wasn’t a definitive moment, either. You didn’t exactly intend to do it, but you didn’t prevent it.
You are scrolling on a device that you’ve time-machined backward to 1988, completely unbothered by how absolutely absurd that is.
There were plenty of warnings — shorter spans of energy, the little exclamation icon, a less ambiguous recurring notification to “service battery” — but you did nothing. With an infinite supply of more interesting stimuli on your screen and more pressing items on your to-do list, or just misplaced optimism, it wasn’t really an issue in need of attention. The easiest option seemed to be keeping your computer plugged in.
Gradually, you grew accustomed to the limits of your corded personal computer and, even now, are scrolling on a device that you’ve time-machined backward to 1988, completely unbothered by how absolutely absurd that is.
I can say this to you now, with love, because I have just emerged from that darkness. I know all of the rationalizing you’ve done. "It still works perfectly well. It’s not a big deal to move the power cord. I’ll save the money to buy a new computer."
Have you also been burning a tallow candle out of the socket since that lightbulb went out? Are you using the clogged vacuum cleaner as a broom? When your pen ran out of ink, did you start using it to make shallow engravings? And no, this is not a case of “a broken escalator is still a flight of stairs”; you have sabotaged the core feature of your portable computer, but you are pretending it’s just an expired perk.
You would think that a pandemic imposing unprecedented limits on our movement might nudge us toward maximizing our freedom in our own homes by ending our tethering to outlets. Then again, since we’re not really going anywhere, it’s felt easy enough to justify putting off a fix until our lives become more mobile. It’s a prime example of how we keep ourselves trapped in bad situations facing increased hardship under a guise of convenience.
So we train ourselves in the dumbest form of monasticism, a latter-day collection of rituals and self-denial. At home, we drag our charger across the room from desk to couch to bed, one hand pulling the charger and one swinging the computer. We thread cords around table legs and weight them to the surface with a book if they risk falling off. We nix the stoop, yard, sunny bench and grassy hill as possible escapes.
And yet, no matter how we contort ourselves to avoid confronting the actual problem, we are still vulnerable to err and trigger a catastrophic fall. Maybe a toe caught the cord on the way to the bathroom, or a shifting duvet dragged it down, or the malicious pull of gravity tipped the magnet back into a gaping maw, and it all went black: the presentation on the Zoom call, the pivotal galactic battle scene, the midair pass in the closing minutes, the 37 curated tabs in four windows (that at least allows a tab cleanse, we try to rationalize).
Anger. Seething. Expletives. But only until we’re entering our password and restoring tabs. And then it’s back to ignoring that we once bought this object because of how small it was, how light it was, how long its battery lasted.
At least, you’re still doing that.
I’ve just made it out — and I can’t stomach leaving you behind. Thank the luck or loved one that brought you here: You’re replacing your laptop’s dead battery this week.
I am not asking you to find the next available Genius Bar appointment in the nearest suburban mall three weeks from now at 7:45 a.m. where you risk contracting Covid-19 from Guy Taking Selfies on every iPhone floor model. I’m not asking you to forgo your (takeout) avocado toast so you can scrape together some exorbitant sum. I’m not asking you to back up all of your data and consult a mystic before you risk it all on the procedure.
I’m encouraging you to have some basic self-respect.
I am suggesting you part with the money you would have spent in a month of happy hours or two nice dinners out. I am telling you to take your 100-something-dollars and find any one of the stores named iFixTech or 2PhoneGuyz that certainly have the minimal competence required to replace an old battery slab with a new one. I am demanding that you buy yourself a coffee and look at a tree for 15 minutes while the most-used object in your life is restored to its intended nature.
No matter how we contort ourselves to avoid confronting the actual problem, we are still vulnerable to err and trigger a catastrophic fall.
Yes, it might be hard to adjust to things being easy again. Even after a few weeks, I still twitch for the charger when I don’t need to. I still hesitate before unplugging to move across the room. I still feel a low hum of anxiety that I can’t, surely, watch an entire feature film without this thing connected to a wall, can I? But I can and I did, just to prove it to myself.
While it’s true that a pandemic does reduce the otherwise boundless domain of a cordless computer, the opportunities that remain are all the more golden. Outside, there’s still a spot on the grass on this unseasonably warm day. There’s still a bench with a view of ... something other than your walls. You can, as I did, even return to your old coffee shop, or at least its empty street hut. You can claim any cold metal chair you want. And as the wind whips the tarps and your fingers start to tingle, you can be overcome by giddiness when strangers sit down nearby. Yes: fellow human beings, brought into safe, intersecting orbits by the wonders of portable computing. No cords, no alerts, no limits (OK, still some limits).
Or you could continue to live in a fool’s limbo, stuck to your wall and to your denial, periodically interrupted only by incidents of self-inflicted aggravation.
You have the power — while you’re plugged in — to choose.