Some computers crash, but only figuratively. My laptop crashed last week, but literally. Entangled in its own wires, it crashed to the floor with a sickening thud. The repairman told me it would take five days for it to be repaired.
Five days without a computer! How will I manage? Granted, one can write by hand or on a typewriter (“Daddy, what’s a typewriter?”), but five days without email. All those hordes of people who must get in touch with me – how will they reach me now? And all those whom I must contact – how will I reach them?
I don’t even have their phone numbers. And my daily electronic New York Times and Jerusalem Post – will I now be forced actually to read a newspaper or listen to radio news?
Sadnesss consumed me on the first day. Occasionally I found myself staring at the blank, empty space where the laptop had once stood. It was as if a good friend had abandoned me. Someone who saw my distress offered to say a mi shebeirach [prayer for the sick] in shul for the laptop, but after due consideration I turned it down. (“Better a mi shebeirach,” he chuckled, “than a kel Molei [prayer for the dead]…” He thought it was funny, but only one of us laughed.)
BUT THEN something curious began to happen.
As day one passed into day two, I found myself longing for my computer less and less. It began to dawn on me that I do not really have to contact anyone, nor is it urgent that they be able to contact me. If, say, I were away on vacation, or on a long journey, five days would not be an inordinate amount of time to be out of touch. So I asked a friend to contact the hordes of people who needed to reach me (all three of them: two grandchildren and one brother-in-law) and inform them that my computer was down for the next several days.
Subtlely, a palpable sense of relief began to enfold me, the kind of relief that one experiences only on Shabbat or the festivals. For if you know that you cannot reach anyone else, and everyone else knows they cannot reach you, the pressure is off.
Four magic words: “My computer is down.”
Just to utter those words made me feel important. When I call the bank, their computer invariably is down; when I call the phone company, their computer is down; at airlines or government offices, all computers are down. And now I was able proudly to join that august company and tell everyone, You will not be able to contact me for the next few days, because – roll of drums – my computer is down.
NOW THAT I had joined the privileged class that can say MCID, I breathed much easier. There was no need to check my e-mail every 20 minutes. I was free at last. No more attachments, no more forwarding, or inboxes, or overloaded mailboxes.
As for the daily news, let’s face it. News happens whether or not we know about it. In fact, the less I know about the news, the happier I am.
On days three and four I found that I had extra time for reading and studying. I also worked on my bookshelves and filing cabinets, rearranging the chaos into a more manageable disorder, and the disorder into a respectable clutter.
As for the world outside, I had no idea what was happening, and I reveled in my ignorance. On the bus I heard snippets of conversation about the Israeli convergence/ withdrawal/ consolidation plans, or whatever its nom du jour; about earthquakes in Indonesia, and corruption in government, and terrorist attacks in Iraq, and gay parades in Jerusalem, and 24/7 missionary broadcasts in Israel. But none of this grabbed me, a congenital news junkie.
The world, I realized, goes on without me. As for some writing deadlines, I simply repeated the magic incantation of MCID to my editor, and since he is a sophisticated and literate man, he understood, sympathized, and wished me well.
Day five: the techie came to the door, laptop in hand. “Here it is, as good as new,” he said cheerfully. My sabbatical had come to an end. Anxiety hovered over me, and tension slowly enveloped me. As I gazed at my old/new laptop I was overcome by that feeling one has when one comes home after a lovely vacation: trepidation, worry, reluctance to return to daily routine. The world was about to be reinstated.
I sat down next to it, this time with a sense of loss at its resurrection. No longer could I declare proudly that MCID. My computer had gone from very down to very up. Everything was more responsive and more powerful than ever before: files, editing, blogs, new messages, old messages, network connections – all the necessary toys without which we cannot live – and with which we cannot live.
MY EMAILS are flowing again, and I am writing and editing as in days of yore. Attachments are attaching, Recycling Bins are cycling, Files are filing, Tools are tooling, Google is googling. My windows to the world have been re-opened, and once again the news depresses, spams assault, pop-ups urge, and the World Wide Web entangles. And my study, which had almost reached the status of sanity, has backslid from clutter into disorder. Before long it will revert to its normative chaos.
Relentlessly I am engulfed by the whirls and eddies of an irresistible current, and slowly I sink beneath the surface. I click the Help icon; like any icon, it ignores my pleas.
My computer was down. No longer. Now only I am down.
But I am comforted. I belief with perfect faith that it is only a matter of time before it crashes once again – figuratively or literally. That it will happen I have no doubt.
I must be patient. And when that inevitable, shining, transcendent moment occurs, I will exact my wicked revenge upon it: I will not call the repairman at all.
This article appears in today’s Jerusalem Post.