Requiem for a Craptop

Today I said goodbye to the MacBook that served me and my wife for almost three years — served us tirelessly, loyally, without ever judging the uses to which we put it. It was part of our household and our daily routines, funneling reams of virtual paper past our eyeballs, taking our email dictation, connecting us with friends through Facebook and family through Skype. (Many was the Sunday afternoon I’d walk the MacBook around our house to show my parents the place; I faced into its camera as the bedrooms and staircases and kitchens scrolled behind me like a mutated first-person shooter or a Kubrickian steadicam.) We called it, affectionately, the Craptop; but there was nothing crappy about its animal purity.

It’s odd, I know, to speak this way about a machine, but then again it isn’t: I’m far too respectful of the lessons of science fiction (not to mention those of Foucault, Latour, and Haraway) to draw confident and watertight distinctions between our technologies and ourselves. My sadness about the Craptop’s departure is in part a sadness about my own limitations, including, of course, the ultimate limit: mortality. Even on a more mundane scale, the clock of days, I was unworthy of the Craptop’s unquestioning service, as I am unworthy of all the machines that surround and support me, starting up at the press of a button, the turn of a key.

The Craptop was not just a machine for the home, but for work: purchased by Swarthmore to assist me in teaching, it played many a movie clip and Powerpoint presentation to my students, flew many miles by airplane and rode in the back seat of many a car. It passes from my world now because the generous College has bought me a new unit, aluminum-cased and free of the little glitches and slownesses that were starting to make the Craptop unusable. It’s a mystery to me why and how machines grow old and unreliable — but no more, I suppose, than the mystery of why we do.

What happens to the Craptop now? Swarthmore’s an enlightened place, and so, the brand assures me, is Apple: I assume a recycling program exists to deconstruct the Craptop into ecologically-neutral components or repurpose its parts into new devices. In his article “Out with the Trash: On the Future of New Media” (Residual Media, Ed. Charles R. Acland, University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Jonathan Sterne writes eloquently and sardonically of the phenomenon of obsolete computer junk, and curious readers are well advised to seek out his words. For my part, I’ll just note my gratitude to the humble Craptop, and try not to resent the newer model on which, ironically, I write its elegy: soon enough, for it and for all of us, the end will come, so let us celebrate the devices of here and now.

11 thoughts on “Requiem for a Craptop

  1. My understanding is that Swarthmore sells the used machines to a reseller for pennies on the dollar. I’ve always been very disappointed in this policy because I think Swarthmore could serve the community (defined as those that work at the College, not the wider community) well by making first offers of these machines to us at whatever price they plan on selling them to the resellers. Unfortunately, ITS has had a bad history on this: in the past when this was done, new owners of these machines brought them complaining about them or seeking repairs even though the sale was an as-is sale. I hope one day ITS will give this another shot but make clear the sale is as-is and exclude anyone from making future purchases if they violate this. Personally, I’d love to have a 3-year old Mac laptop to replace the nearly 5-year old Mac laptop I’m writing this on right now… especially if the price was right! Goodbye craptop.

  2. Rich, thanks for the info! I didn’t know about Swarthmore’s (former) policy of selling the old machines back to their owners, but it makes sense (as, unfortunately, does ITS’s objection that it entails more work from them down the line). For my part, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the Craptop came to play such a vital role in both of our lives, because technically the machine was for my use and not my wife’s. I’m committed to using the new machine exclusively for work, which means Katie is weaning herself from internet dependence (her choice, as we still have my desktop computer in the chilly basement, along with an aging PC laptop that seems, by today’s standards of ergonomic sleekness, to weigh about fifty pounds).

  3. As one who also struggled through the loss of his laptop this past summer, and who needed to put it down, I pass on my condolences. Rest assured, though, that our laptops are playing networked games together in the big Apple orchard in the sky.

  4. Chris: I do love mise-en-abyme, so plentiful in this era of nested screens, feedback loops, and fractals.

    Jon, thanks for the condolences and the sweet thoughts on our laptops’ angelic afterlives …

  5. I believe I had the honor of touching and utilizing the (in)famous Craptop spoken of here by Bob, though I did not think of it as a (Crap)top at the time. It seems just like yesterday (cue foggy screen morphing)…it was almost one year ago, as I dutifully and completely unknowingly offended all possible parties (including the cat) as a guest in Mssr. Rehak’s home for the SCMS conference. Though Bob-Borg and Katie were kind enough to have me in their home for a few days, I must admit that secretly, the opportunity to use the Craptop for even the smallest of mundane tasks was too great to pass up (as Bob had already been pre-eulogizing its legacy for me on the way home from the airport), and in the end, it became *by far* the most memorable part of my visit (except for the dinner party, that was good stuff!).

    I often think about the Craptop (really, I do!) and its strange power to excite and bewilder in those few short moments we spent together, but more for its unwavering reliability and usefulness on those extremely cold mornings and evenings, as I checked email and responded to the innumerable requests for signed photographs that show up in my inbox every single day. Besides the required tasks, it also fulfilled the quite important aesthetically interesting, but entirely superfluous needs, such as very quickly loading the first HQ pictures of characters from Warner Bros. upcoming “Watchmen” film, which I believe I had the honor of personally revealing to Bob.

    I must admit that I felt the extraordinary power in my fingertips with every laborious, but click-worthy tap I made on the keyboard, I felt the glorious hummm of the CPU, I felt the aching pixels of the monitor fight for my use — even though they were growing weaker by the day — I even felt the undeniable sense of self-worth coming from all Apple products as they trans-phonetically input “I’m a Mac, better than a PC” into your brain upon each touch of a letter. Truth be told, I have already informed Bob that I am considering a Mac for my next computer (though that’s hopefully not too soon). What hypnotic power is this? I will miss the Craptop, as I have yet to miss my own PC version of the Craptop — a 1998 Campaq Presario that I just cannot let slip from my hands (despite my owning a fully-powered and quite powerful, single processor Sony Vaio).

    For your willingness to give up that which you can no longer sustain, or can sustain you, Bob, sir, friend, scholar, you are indeed a stronger man than I. :-)

  6. Michael: I’d forgotten that you and the Craptop came to know each other back in March 2008. Thanks for sharing these memories of your time together, and for reminding me that, as they said in the series finale of Quantum Leap, “the lives we touch touch others.”

    But what’s this about offending everyone in the house (including the cat)? You were an exemplary houseguest! (It was your host who was having a rotten week.)

  7. Proof of where my mind is currently is that I sat hear reading those last two comments, and only ten minutes later did I actually get the HAL joke in the Will Smith quote…

    Bob, I just assume that I offend everyone everywhere I go, that way, if I miraculously do make a good impression, I can truly bask in the joy of the moment (or past moments).

    Is this why I identify with ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ so much…? 😉

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