What my laptop taught me about life

Piya Srinivasan
Piya SrinivasanJun 29, 2016 | 15:21

What my laptop taught me about life

My laptop was damaged the other day – mysteriously, I might add. This time, I hadn’t manhandled it in a fit of frustration or rage, usually directed at something else but manifested on its sleek, matte finish. For once, it wasn’t my fault.

Maybe the damage had to do with being the proud parent of a nine-month-old who’s just discovered the joy of breaking things. Or the babysitter I had fired the same day that my laptop found itself bereft of an inviolate body.


As I stared at my dysfunctional screen, numbness overcame me, stemming from the realisation that our relationship was probably over. We had been together for three years, and weathered rough times – two nasty Trojan attacks, one disruptive software malfunction – but were generally doing well.

I’d occasionally take it for granted by not updating it enough, sometimes slamming it shut just a bit hard if it behaved sluggishly. But things would go back to normal. There were no warning signs, which made its impending departure from my life all the more dramatic.

As my husband rushed my beloved companion to laptop ICU (his local electronics dealer) and they formalised the bad news, my mind went through all that we had shared – the thousands of photos of major life milestones, my work-in-progress thesis, all my previous articles, so many movies and songs.

I had trusted my laptop to not abandon me for at least two more years and hence had no back-up. I had put all my eggs in one basket. Would everything that meant anything to me just disappear into a cyber black hole?


On day three of mourning, I asked my heart to be still and pooled my resources, financial and emotional, to enter into another relationship.

It wasn’t easy, and some might call me a rotter, but life had to go on.

After a lot of soul-searching and internet searches for specs and reviews, I brought home my new, sleek red laptop. I found myself handling it with the kind of tenderness one accords to anything that comes with the promise of hope, renewal, fresh starts.

It was then that I realised I was treating my laptop like it was a person. I was investing in it the same attributes that I would to a sentient being.

Was it just me or was this an indication of something much larger, an understanding of technology as something without which our lives are lacklustre, devoid of speed, productivity and associated feelings of success, confidence and self-worth?

Are our hopes and dreams now inextricably tied up with technology?

Just today the Dictionary app on my phone showed me a new word "Automagical" (of a usually complicated technical or computer process): done, operating, or happening in a way that is hidden from or not understood by the user, and in that sense, apparently, magical.


Its first use in the English language dates back to the eighties.

In the film Her, the male protagonist, heartbroken after his divorce, finds love and companionship in a new, sentient operating system named Samantha.

While reading this, I was struck by two things: First, Urban Dictionary and Dictionary.com have become the lexicons representative of the language and emotions of our time, while Oxford English Dictionary is still scrambling to include new age words within its considerably British scope.

One might even dismiss it as being too pompous.

Second, technology is not only entering everyday discourse, it is also being conferred with a sense of wonder which we’d previously left to the realm of the fantastic or to serendipity.

There was a certain dreamlike quality about mysterious occurrences that defied formal logic, and in that very fact lay its beauty. But now these traits are also linked with the technosphere, which is hardly something one would ordinarily romanticise.

As we move towards an age of technology, automation and robotics, new words are being generated to cover the slippages between man and machine, and the inherent conflicts and contradictions that emerge out of a marriage of the two.

We rely on the know-how of engineers, cyber experts and software giants, whose complex algorithms determine solutions that make life faster and simpler with each passing day. So yes, the world is becoming automagical.

This can be clearly evidenced in the world of cinema. The word "serendipity" was brought into prominence by a feature film in 2001 by the same name. It talked about how factors like fate and destiny conspired to bring two people together, despite the odds.

Move to 2013, and the movie Her, a sci-fi comedy-drama about a male protagonist who, heartbroken after his divorce, finds love and companionship in a new, sentient operating system named Samantha.

In a decade, there has been a tectonic shift in how we understand relationships, and this newly developed understanding has also penetrated the public sphere.

Her grossed over $47 million worldwide and received critical acclaim. Come 2015 and there was Ex-Machina, a sci-fi psychological thriller that serves as a chilling reminder of both the seductive and destruction power of robots, making us question the limits of their self-awareness.

Closer to our everyday experience, think of Siri and Cortana, personal digital assistants designed to answer almost every query, including eliciting hilarious, human responses to silly questions on a lonely night.

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in an interview with Business Insider said chatbots would be the next big thing. He describes it as "taking the power of human language and applying it more pervasively to our computing".  

Yes, we’ve indeed come a long way from Yahoo Chat and ASL. But that was another time, a tentative hand into the unknown, a testing of the waters. We’ve now come to a point where full lives can be lived on our laptops, over the internet, with the help of technology.

Technology has changed how we read, how we communicate, how we procreate, how we travel, how we access information and form opinions, how we memorialise, how we maintain our relationships, how we look, who we love, what we support. It is changing what we see, how we think, how we speak.

In effect, it is slowly changing who we are and creating new possibilities for who we can become. This can be threatening to a lot of values that we hold dear, most significantly the loss of human capital.

But maybe our hopes and dreams do reside in the devices that have become our companions, often more than in our real ones. And it is up to us which person we want to become.

Last updated: June 29, 2016 | 19:20
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