I am looking around my living room, having just returned from the Apple Store. All around—on the desk, on shelves and cabinet tops—are all my husband’s and my broken computers. When I was a child I once believed that inanimate objects had feelings, and real lives, and I even once imagined all the inanimate objects would take over someday, and avenge us humans, turn us into marble the way Lot’s wife, looking back at the forbidden Sodom was turned into salt.
Last night my iPad broke and it couldn’t be repaired. My desk computer can’t get on the Internet and runs on a program that is nearly obsolete. There was no choice but to go to the Apple Store and get a new iPad, though we are so low on money, dreading the April tax time. I could feel that urgency, almost a desperation. For fifteen years these computers have become like an organ or a limb, I believed I couldn’t write without them. In college I kept notebooks, all pages were handwritten. I collected notebooks from elegant collections in leather or cloth. I was through–the–roof ecstatic when I got my first electric typewriter. This feels like a cliche that nostalgia, but what has happened to me, and my sense of what utility is important has created in me a weird amnesia. When my computer breaks I am convinced I can’t survive. I have no memory of the days when I filled pages and pages of notebooks, or was happy to see my IBM typewriter first thing in the morning on my writing desk. I lose all connection to those memories, as if they never happened.
When I got out of the taxi in front of the Apple Store, the cab driver turned back and said: “Yes, here is the computer store, and look at all those things that run the world, I swear to you to you that run the world.” I felt a flush of relief and affinity. “You’re right,” I said. “Yes ma’am,” he said: “they are running us, not the other way around.” When I entered the huge store, I held on to a banister to get up the few stairs and find my equilibrium. It was dizzying, this mammoth place full of computers and screens. I felt like I was in a spacecraft being controlled by people beyond some impassable screen or curtain. The computers are just inanimate objects, I told myself, my childhood fantasies of being annihilated by revengeful objects, or believing objects had real feelings belonged to a time when imagination knocked down the doors of reality and reason.
Everything since that visit has proved me wrong and my childhood fantasy about objects right I look around my living room, somehow we never seem to want to part from our old broken computers, I’m thinking. I still feel guilty that I hurt them, banging too hard on their keyboards, accidentally spilling water on their vulnerable places. They each bring a time of life back to us, as if human, like a departed friend or lover. And I get so sad looking at them broken, mournful, wishing I had never caused such pain, their eventual death. Although I certainly wasn’t annihilated by my original ipad turning on me, I didn’t sleep, I was tormented by fears of no longer being able to function, I had no memory of earlier days where my notebooks brought me such fulfilling writing days.
I just finished an essay about the Romanian Nobel prize winner, Herta Muller. One of my most remembered statements from Muller made in an interview about why ordinary objects are so important in her book and sh explained simple objects defined her again when she lost her bearings again, became pieces which would allow her a sense of continuity, hold her identity, and it felt an old self and the emergence of the new self, hold together by those objects and her life long relationship to them. In her Nobel Prize acceptance, Müller asked: “Can we say that it is precisely the smallest objects—be they trumpets, accordions, or handkerchiefs—which connect the most disparate things in life? That the objects are in orbit and that their deviations reveal a pattern of repetition Amidst all the angst, the questions about where we are going in this Digital Age which often looks like it’s spinning out of control, overtaking us as it moves at the speed of light compared to our old rambling ways. I purchased not a desktop, not a new if pad but something they call the ipad mini, a small miraculous machine, I am thinking now writing this on it…I wonder if I bought a mini, and not the adult ipad because I felt and want to feel like that child again, capable of imagination, curiosity, and simple awe as she stared at the daunting powerful new objects she couldn’t explain to herself. In our sometimes threatening new Digital world. It felt good to remember that child who was me, lost in that inexplicable wonder. These are just some early evening thoughts before I go out to buy some screen protectors and a case for it. Then to begin again.
Leora Skolkin-Smith is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel Hystera. You can learn more about her and her book at our website.