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The Soul of an Old Machine


Tracy Kidder once wrote about the soul of a new machine, describing a breath-taking computer development process. Today I want to know: does my old computer have a soul?

Spoiler alert: Probably not!

But does it feel my energy? Or know how much I care for it?

Last week I bought a new Mac notebook computer. After years of nursing a perfectly good but woefully out of date Macbook, I should have been celebrating the arrival of its next of kin. Instead I was sad.

Despite its nine years of faithful use, my old computer was considered an antique by Apple. No more upgrades. Parts and cables no longer available. Memory limited. Still we soldiered on together. Then the coup de grace occurred: the team of 500 pound gorillas managing Google announced that they would no longer support its operating system. Soon, I could boil tea water in the time it was taking to open webpages.

Alas, it was time for a change. So, after considerable research, I succumbed to the virtues of this year’s sleek, light, and super fast MacBook Pro. I gulped and ordered it. (I’ve been a Mac girl since the first 128K was introduced.)

The successor’s arrival

When UPS delivered my new, elegant, pewter-gray machine, I delayed opening the box, feeling like I was about to betray an old a friend. After all, hadn’t my old computer served me tirelessly, traveling thousands of miles to different countries, tolerating abuse at airport check-ins and never complaining? Its protective red cover displayed scruffs and scrapes that I considered to be badges of honor, marking battle wounds earned in years of service.

My new computer was pretty, but, as I started it up, something didn’t feel quite right. The keyboard was smaller. The notebook didn’t snuggle comfortably into my lap like its predecessor. I missed the more sonorous key clicks of my old friend. Had I made a mistake?

Now you may think it’s weird to have such personal feelings for a computer. (At least I never gave it a name!) But I had poured a lot of myself and my energy into my red-covered, electronic pal. And besides machines just might react to our energy. I offer the following as proof. (My mechanically-adept husband is cringing as he reads this!)

The Toyota that was going to be left behind.

Many years ago, while working in Washington, D.C., I drove a banged up, orange, bottom-of-the-line Toyota Corolla. It was a perfect car for me on my just-emerging-from-graduate-school budget. It ran great. Then one day, I was romanced by a job opening in New York City, where I knew I would never want to keep a car. The afternoon I accepted that enticing position, my Toyota stopped dead on D.C.’s Massachusetts Avenue. Kaput. Never to run again. (The mechanic towed it in trade for parts.)

You figure.

The Omni that read my mind

A few years later, I drove a Dodge Omni to commute from Seattle to Bellevue, Washington (land of Microsoft) over the Evergreen State Floating Bridge. I loved my job developing products for a cool info-services start-up until things started to devolve. After a year, the company’s strategy ceased making sense. Then, OMG, the cute, young, blond receptionist confided how the president had sexually assaulted her. Super yuck. My Omni read my vibes as I drove to work and stopped TWICE on the Evergreen Bridge during rush hour traffic. Both times the car had to be pushed off the bridge. It had never died before. I quit the job.

Need more proof?

It’s OK to care

Whether or not machines respond to our energy, many of us care for them. My down to earth husband may not believe that cars react to our energy, but he infuses all of his old cars with pieces of himself. Why else is it so impossibly hard for him to sell off even one car from our fleet of ten? (Actually, I stopped counting). Letting go of a car he cares about is like losing a piece of himself.

So how does one say good-bye to an old computer? Surely not by shipping it to Guiyu, the world’s largest electronic waste dump in China. I don’t know how to offer a proper farewell to my old computer. So this blog is my acknowledgment, typed on its trusty keys.

“Good bye my friend, you did your job well and I thank you.”

But on second thought, maybe I’ll keep it. Treat it like my gelding who was retired and put out to pasture. In that way, I’d still be able to call it back for old time’s sake, power up that antiquated operating system, and take it for one last trot together.



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