Things that are easier than being a computerless grad student

October 11, 2010

If you haven’t heard yet, my laptop died a week and a half ago. What I was doing when it seized up, actually, was writing one post in this blog and reviewing an article for a second, so those were some of the casualties of Lappy’s demise.

Another casualty is my schoolwork.

I’m now waiting for my System 76 Lemur UltraThin to arrive. They said it would take 8 business days to build my computer, and then there’s the shipping time.1 So that’ll be about two weeks. Two weeks! Two weeks without a computer?!?! In grad school?!?!! I have PAPERS DUE! WHAT AM I GONNA DO?!?!!?!

Well, for starters (after taking quite a few deep breaths), I’ve borrowed my sister’s old iBook G4, which means the crisis has largely been averted. The iBook doesn’t, however, have my stuff on it. This feeling is surprisingly similar to what I experienced last summer when I went back to visit my friends in Japan. Though I enjoyed visiting them all, being a guest using someone’s spare futon is nevertheless draining. This is like that, only a lot worse. (Since, you know, I’m missing the “see friends and Japan” part of the bargain.)

And I have a confession: I broke my No Computers In Class rule this past week for the first time this semester. I did so because I hadn’t been able to print out my reading materials (being too busy scrambling to find computers to write papers on), so I just had to open the PDFs in class. But of course, I ended up doing not-class-related stuff. This was partially due to a failure of willpower, but it wasn’t wholly such a failure: it was also due to desperation. What I was doing, you see, was computer shopping. Panic was overwhelming me and I had to take urgent action. I needed a new machine and I needed it ASAP. Never having been addicted to drugs, I can not say this with accuracy, but this feeling is much like what I imagine drug addicts experience if their supply is cut off.

I did, at least, manage to pay attention at some points. One was in SI 633 (History of Books and Printing), when we were discussing the transition from manuscripts to printed books. This was oddly appropriate considering what was playing out in my mind, which is this: I can not imagine what it must have been like to be a college student before computers.

Honestly, I can much more easily imagine life before indoor plumbing. The concept of chamber pots and outhouses is easy enough to grasp. Heck, when I volunteered in India last year, we had to use an outhouse, but they still provided us with an Internet connection right there in the Dalit village where we were helping to build houses. They clearly know what their young adult volunteers can handle and what constitutes an unacceptable degree of “roughing it.” (Okay, so it’s harder to build flush toilets than it is to set up a laptop, but this still strikes me as significant.)

It is also easier to be on crutches than it is to be without a computer. I say this with some authority because I sprained my ankle and had to use crutches last year while I lived in Japan. With crutches, everyone can see that your mobility is limited, so you get more immediate understanding. (I got to sit on the priority seat on the train!) Sure, it was a major inconvenience because I normally got around by bike, so I had to get people to give me rides to work and the grocery store; but the worst case scenario, if no one could drive me, was that I’d use the Internet to order pizza delivery. At no point was I at risk of (ahhhhhhhh!!!) turning papers in late.

So as far as I can tell, having temporarily limited use of computers is more of a burden than having temporarily limited use of one’s right leg.2 I’ve been having trouble keeping up with everything that’s going on via e-mail, with getting my reading done, with applying to programs via the Web (fortunately my resumé was backed-up on my external hard drive!), and let’s not even talk about writing papers. Lemur UltraThin, please get here soon! I have a policy report due October 21!

And that’s what it’s like to be a grad student without a computer in 2010. I’m all for getting a priority seat implemented for temporarily computerless students.

Anyone else have a similar experience to share?

  1. Some people suggested that I could just go to Best Buy and pick a computer right off the shelf, thereby having it immediately and avoiding two weeks of suffering. That, however, would require me to pay the Windows Tax, which would cause a more prolonged and profound kind of suffering. I’ll manage to hold out for two weeks somehow.
  2. I make no such claims regarding permanent physical disabilities, but I do think this experience drives home the point that the Digital Divide is real and it is deep. I will support efforts to bring broadband access to underprivileged communities even more enthusiastically now.

2 Responses to “Things that are easier than being a computerless grad student”

  1. Plus, Best Buy is actually…kind of bad about selling anything tech-related. I think their staff is as minimally trained on technology as possible, and more trained on making “hard sells” to people.

  2. When I was in college, not many people had laptops. I did my papers at home in our cold basement. I barely can conceive of that. I am so connected now I can’t imagine going to call and being able to surf the net or type up notes while the professor talks (and OMG how awesome would that be? I type so damn fast!) lol.

    I’d love to go to school again if only to experience it with a laptop lol.

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