Andrew Vine: Old friend off to knacker’s yard of technology

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COMPUTER Man pursed his
lips and arranged his features into a well-practised expression of pity for the technologically illiterate.

He’s very good, but a visit involves being blinded by science, and today he was particularly fluent in technobabble as he explained why the screen of my laptop
had gone blank after an unsettling whirring noise from its innards.

It could be failing ram, he said. Ram? What’s a sheep got to do with it? Or the motherboard. Mother Board? Who’s she? A relative of Mother Shipton?

I pointed out that he might as well be speaking an obscure African dialect for all the sense he was making.

“It’s knackered,” he replied succinctly, and went on to explain that rather like dog and cat years, laptops have their own ageing process.

According to him, if my faithful old machine were a human, it would be about 128.

Hardly surprising that it’s given up the ghost then, but not wishing to miss any opportunity with a captive audience, Computer Man delivered himself of some more incomprehensible jargon concerning the futility of attempting a repair.

The only bit I really understood was when he detoured briefly into plain English with the phrase “throwing good money after bad”, so I paid him and left.

Now I know it’s a bit ridiculous to become emotionally attached to what’s basically an oblong plastic box with a lot of circuitry inside, but I had a real sense of sadness.

It’s the same feeling I’ve had at scrapyards when leaving behind a trusty old car that’s been run into the ground and had the last rites read over it at an MOT testing station.

The laptop hasn’t only been a means of earning a living, it’s played its part in much that is personal and precious. Unforgettable holidays have started on its battered keyboard, and Christmas or birthday presents for nearest and dearest have been sought out by it.

Over the years, it’s been bashed about as it was carted the length and breadth of the country, survived being dropped and sat on, as well as the attentions of a toddler
armed with a melting ice lolly, and never once flinched or let me down.

Friends and family have seen their laptops come and go
during its lifetime, while it has soldiered steadfastly on. And if it became rather creaky and slow, well, if I were about 128 I wouldn’t be any too sprightly either.

The laptop and I ceased to zoom down the information superhighway together quite some while ago, the journey being more akin to chugging along in third gear with frequent stops on the hard shoulder
for a breather whilst the kettle boiled.

It took longer to warm up than my parents’ black-and-white television did in the 1970s, and developed an alarmingly lifelike wheezing sound.

Still, it’s outlasted many another household gadget during its lifetime, and every time I took it to Computer Man for a checkup, he pronounced the patient getting on a bit but still lively for its age.

I haven’t the heart to chuck it away just yet, so it’s been consigned to the understairs cupboard, maybe to gather dust until I read of a miracle cure for geriatric laptops sometime in the future, at which point I’ll have it fixed for old times’ sake and take it for a run in the manner of a vintage car.

Enter Computer Man II, a bright and cheerful soul not long out of school, who when I walked into his showroom full of shiny new laptops, weighed me up as probably not comfortable with anything more advanced than an abacus, and so spoke very slowly and distinctly.

The suspicion that he had me down as having emerged from a gas-lit and horse-drawn past via Doctor Who’s Tardis was confirmed when I told him about the old laptop, and he confessed he’d never seen one of those.

By way of reassurance, he helpfully added that all the laptops on display were easy 
for older people to use. Thanks a lot, sonny. So a bright and gleaming new laptop is open on the desk. It’s had a series of promises made to it – not to be bashed about, sat upon or dropped. Ice lollies will be forbidden from coming anywhere near.

There’s no wheezing or whirring, and it starts up in seconds. It feels rather like swapping the battered old Fiat on my driveway for a Ferrari, because it’s so fast.

I’m not stuck on the hard shoulder of the information superhighway any more, but in the outside lane with my foot to the floor.

It doesn’t yet feel like the old friend that its predecessor became, more like a skittish young acquaintance who I’m still getting to know. But we’ll get there, and I don’t think I’ll need to be baffled by Computer Man any time soon.