Recently, I had quite the scare: my laptop shut down, and wouldn’t restart. Cue the horror, the endless waves of fear – yes, I have some major work saved elsewhere, but there’s a whole lot of writing I haven’t bothered to back up that could be lost forever. So, it was in a state of fragile calm that I ended up at the Apple store, not quite daring to hope (lest disappointment crush me).

Thankfully, I managed to save my writing, but the rest of my data was not so lucky. It was all wiped. At first, it was my music that occupied my mind most – or more accurately, the prospect of silence. Music is everything to me; it is the means by which I am able to exist in a languid dream-state throughout the day, to not be caught and hung up on the sounds of the everyday. The harsh cries of birds. The squawks and squeals of children, the braying cries of their parents. The honk of cars, the scream of tires, and hum of engines.

I take them out, these noises, and gently plug music into the gap; it is on chords I walk, it is to rhythmic beats I run. The sense of loss I felt was huge, all those beloved tracks, those writing-playlists. I paid no mind to whatever else was on my computer, the photos, movies, etc. Therein lay my biggest mistake, because it is that which consumes me now. See, I got my laptop back in the end, and didn’t have to spend $1200 on a new one, which is great, but it’s more complicated than that.

I hesitate to anthropomorphise a machine, but I have to say, this is not the same computer I gave in. I feel as though my laptop died, and did not come back. Or more accurately, that the digital self I’ve built over the past four years and imbued in the laptop, was killed. Scrubbed clean. My desktop looks strange, empty. My programs, Word, FinalDraft, sundry others, are gone. Nothing symbolises this emptiness more than Chrome, my favoured web browser.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, it tracks your most visited websites. If I were to type the letter ‘a’, for instance, it would immediately bring up either the ATP website, or AVClub. ‘S’ for Sydney Morning Herald, ‘t’ for Twitter, ‘h’ for Huffington Post, ‘n’ for New York Times. These were paths I’d trodden so often, I needed no more than a letter for Chrome to know where I was going. These busy online woods had roads I’d carefully cleared with repetition. Each place, each platform, had my details saved, my passwords.

It knew me, they knew me – the same way the dour Asian couple who run the local convenience store know me, and what I’ll buy each morning, after a year’s worth of routine – and now, they don’t. I’m a stranger online once again. Put in a letter, it has no clue what I’m doing, or where I’m going. This intangible familiarity is a concern for most people, I know, and I’d have said before this that I’m sympathetic to the many privacy / advertiser-based fears people profess.

Now, however, I’m a little less sure. I never realised just how much comfort I took from the incalculable small changes I’d wrought on my laptop, browser, etc, to personalise it, and the various ways it was all connected to my day-to-day life. I feel a curious lightness, too, however: my browser history has been permanently deleted, my online baggage is gone. Or at least, my connection to it has been interrupted. Enough to give me clarity on something that had become frighteningly comfortable, anyway.

If only there were a real-world equivalency, an ability to scrub old broken friendships, failed relationships, and the various detritus accumulated over years of life. To, at the very least, be temporarily relieved of the burden of memory. The prospect is both terrifying and alluring, and I can’t quite decide which I prefer right now; the familiar, the comfortably clear paths and known quantities, or the totally strange, the thick brambles and unknown. I suspect the answer is both. I want enough familiarity to be comfortable, but not be rote, and enough of the new to keep things interesting, to myself on my toes.

All of which is to say I’ve suddenly been forced to look anew at the way I use this machine, the way it learns of, and accommodates me, like any old friend. How much does your laptop or device know about you? How much have you tweaked it to suit your every peculiarity, your random whim? How many times do you trawl the same web pathways, and how open are you to changing, to casting off your habits and starting again?

One way or the other, all I’ll say is this: save everything you can, kids. At least that way you can pick and choose what to lose when the inevitable upgrade/crash occurs.

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