Rust in Peace: Tribute to my old faithful Toshiba Satellite Pro A100

Dhara and Nalaka with their old faithful Toshiba, 24 Dec 2009 - Photo by Niroshan Fernando

For many of us, computers have become essential silicon extensions of our carbon selves — and we can’t imagine how we managed our work and leisure before their arriva. In my case, the attachment to my laptop goes beyond professional: it’s also my constant companion and travel partner.

So it’s akin to a death in the family when the old faithful finally goes the way of…all silicon. In 20 years of laptop use, I have mourned six: the average productive lifespan seems to be between three and four years. (Confession time: I have a cabinet full of very tired and fully expired laptops, mostly Toshiba.)

The latest calamity happened in early December, pushing me into a few days of digital turbulence just when I was trying to tie up various loose ends in what has been another hectic year. Fortunately, no data were lost, and I eventually managed a fairly orderly transfer.

It didn’t come entirely as a surprise. My Toshiba Satellite Pro (model A100) had been showing signs of wear and tear for a few months. The laptop screen is usually the first to develop problems of old age, but switching to a new machine is such a chore (and expense) that I was willing to live with an occasionally misbehaving display. But when bigger and deeper problems manifested – which our IT Manager Indika found were due to a malfunctioning motherboard – it was time to let go…

When I bought my latest Toshiba in mid 2006, I didn’t immediately like its metallic orange colour. I’d been using laptops with silver or electric blue coloured exteriors, and this was a clear departure from that range. But my female colleagues thought orange was rather ‘cool’. I didn’t easily warm up to this colour shift — until I realised the potential for some harmless fun.

Every few weeks, someone would ask me – inevitably, in the ICT circles that I move — whether I used Apple (the geekdom’s ultimate standard). For the past three and a half years, my honest yet confounding answer has been: ‘No, I’m perfectly happy with my Orange!’

Of course, my affection for the laptop was a lot more than skin deep. It has been an integral part of much of what I did professionally and personally in the past three and half years, both online and offline. My substantial volume of published output (op ed essays, book chapters, reviews and film scripts, etc.) took shape within it before flowing out in many and varied directions. I also generated a good deal of unpublished material, all of which is safely stored but not yet ready to see the light of day…

It was also the launch pad for this Moving Images blog, which I started from my friend Sue’s home in Washington DC in early Spring 2007.

It has travelled the world with me, going through hundreds of airports and keeping me much needed company in endless hotel rooms, conferences and meetings.

It has been my confidante in times of crisis – and the past 1,300 days have been among the most tumultuous in my personal and professional lives. While I’m not a social recluse, and cherish the company of my few close (human) friends, it’s sometimes nice to just pour my heart out to someone who listens, doesn’t judge and never resorts to wisecracks or amateur psychology…

So why do I then keep referring to such a trusted companion in the heartless third person as ‘it’? If ships and countries are decidedly female, what about computers that far more people in the world today relate to? That’s a good question, even if it brings up the heated – and as yet unresolved – debate among computer users on the correct gender of computers.

Assigning a gender isn’t that simple when I wasn’t the only regular user of the recently departed Toshiba. That is also another good reason why I was more attached to the last laptop than any of its predecessors: it’s the first machine that connected my Digital Native daughter Dhara to the internet. It arrived within days of her 10th birthday, and I finally ran out of excuses why she shouldn’t go online and get a digital life. (As I reported a few weeks ago, she has since made rapid progress.)

So it was rather apt that Dhara should come up with the perfect epitaph for our beloved, sorely missed silicon companion. It isn’t quite original, but sums up our shared sentiments very well: RIP: Rust In Peace…

PS: Rust in Peace is also the title of an interesting collection that New York magazine recently published of everyday stuff rendered obsolete in the first decade of this century. Among the 17 items listed are the fax machine, audio cassette, answering machine, cathode ray tube TV and incandescent bulb…

Confessions of a Digital Immigrant: Reflections on mainstream and new media

The Digital Native: Was there a life before the Internet, Dad?

In early August 2009, I talked to a captive audience of media owners, senior journalists and broadcasters in Colombo about the ‘digital tsunami’ now sweeping across the media world. (It has been reported and discussed in a number of blog posts on Aug 6, Aug 7, Aug 8 and Aug 31).

As I later heard, some in my audience had mistakenly believed that I was advocating everything going entirely online. Actually, I wasn’t. I like to think that both the physical and virtual media experiences enrich us in their own ways. Real world is never black and white; it’s always a mix or hybrid of multiple processes or influences.

So I’ve just revisited the topic. I adapted part of the talk, and included more personalised insights, and wrote an essay titled ‘Confessions of a Digital Immigrant‘, which has just been published on Groundviews, the path-breaking citizen journalism initiative.

It opens with these words:

“My daughter Dhara, 13, finds it incredible that I had never seen a working television until I had reached her current age — that’s when broadcast television was finally introduced in Sri Lanka, in April 1979. It is also totally inconceivable to her that my entire pre-teen media experience was limited to newspapers and a single, state-owned radio station.

“And she simply doesn’t believe me when I say — in all honesty and humility — that I was already 20 when I first used a personal computer, 29 when I bought my first mobile phone, and 30 when I finally got wired. In fact, my first home Internet connectivity — using a 33kbps dial-up modem — and our daughter arrived just a few weeks apart in mid 1996. I have never been able to decide which was more disruptive…

Groundviews: 1,000 posts and counting...“Dhara (photographed above, in mid 2007) is growing up taking completely for granted the digital media and tools of our time. My Christmas presents to her in the past three years have been a basic digital camera, an i-pod and a mobile phone, each of which she mastered with such dexterity and speed. It amazes me how she keeps up with her Facebook, chats with friends overseas on Skype and maintains various online accounts for images, designs and interactive games. Yet she is a very ordinary child, not a female Jimmy Neutron.

“Despite my own long and varied association with information and communication technologies (ICTs), I know I can never be the digital native that Dhara so effortlessly is. No matter how well I mimic the native ‘accent’ or how much I fit into the bewildering new world that I now find myself in, I shall forever be a digital immigrant.”

Read the full essay ‘Confessions of a Digital Immigrant’ on Groundviews…