As I advance in age, two truths have begun to come home to me: All men are mortal, and computers are even more so.
Furthermore, in the case of computers, at least, that mortality is probably darn good thing.
That little philosophical squib popped into my mind a few weeks ago, with the demise of the six-year-old Compaq Presario in my computer room.
Though it served my purposes well enough for almost six years, I have to confess I have surprised myself by how little I have missed or lamented the old beast’s passing.
The fact is, by the time it failed me, I had long since stopped using it for anything more than running print jobs and occasionally communicating with my wireless router.
Six years ago, when I dashed into the now-defunct MicroAge computer store on Eliot Street, looking for a replacement for my recently crashed, ancient IBM computer, it was a different story.
I was in desperate and immediate need of a computer, and, since I had was just about to put down the money for a trip to Brazil, short on cash.
“Just give me the cheapest serviceable piece of junk you have on the shelf,” I remember saying, perhaps more showing more honesty than social grace.
In response, the good people at MicroAge, who always treated me kindly, came up with this Presario, which they were ready to discount because it had been on the shelf as a demo unit for a month or two.
For just under $600—a virtual give-away price for a computer at that time—I could get this machine with a 2.7 Ghz processor, 256 MB of RAM and a 40 GB hard drive.
It was a deal too good to refuse, so I took it.
Thereafter, my morning routine came to revolve around the Presario my library/computer room.
That was where I drank my coffee while I checked the weather, read my e-mails, and played my on line Scrabble games.
My end-of-day activities—chatting on line with people from around the world, playing more Scrabble, reading book and movie reviews—all had me at the desk in that room, too.
Once I set up my wireless router, though, and acquired a laptop (another legacy device, but, again, sufficient for the my needs) and an iPod Touch, the Presario actually became something of a forgotten machine, and the computer room a space seldom visited.
With my iPod touch, I could check the weather, my e-mails and the latest news at my breakfast table in the kitchen.
With my laptop, I could do my chatting, review-reading and general futzing around from the comfort of my living room sofa, while watching television.
When I happened to stumble upon 256 MB of RAM one day, I put it into the Presario, which brought it slightly closer to life in the modern age; other than that, though, it hummed away pretty much neglected until it came to its end of days, one morning.
(My diagnosis was that it had a steadily worsening problem with hard drive corruption. This would lead it into intermittent digital anxiety attacks, with the CPU going to 100 per cent, and the hard drive spinning madly, neither of them actually writing or retrieving any data, just running amok.)
Now that it is out of service, I am seriously considering just not bothering with any more desk top computers—even though I could get a heck of a deal on a legacy Dell P4 machine with a 3.3 Ghz processor and 1 GB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive for only five bucks!
Given that I am such a techno-cheapskate, with a penchant for people’s cast-off computers, that is an alluring temptation, but not, I think, one I will succumb to, this time.
For me, as for a whole lot of other people out there, the age of the non-mobile computer is probably at an end.
The extremely cheap prices for desk top computers will probably keep them on the market for at least another 10 years, particularly in business offices, where computer portability is less of an issue.
(Indeed, portability is the issue, there: If you are running an insurance firm, you probably really don’t want your staff working on computers that they can pack home with them, replete with all their confidential files.)
But the day of the desktop “home computer” is, I think, very quickly drawing to a close.
For most of us—even the nerdy types—the need for bulky, complex computers at home is rapidly disappearing.
In the old days, serious nerds had an array of desktops, of various configurations and capabilities, hooked up to their internet connections, running their firewalls, their web servers, and such.
These days, though, you can get a perfectly good firewall machine right out of the box, and, with services like Facebook and mySpace, there is really not much call to be running your own web server.
Even for the relatively serious nerd, then, smaller computer devices like netbooks, or even, in some situations, machines like the iPod Touch, are the devices of choice: easy to operate and maintain, quite sufficient to meet our needs, and cheaper and cheaper to own.
So my poor old Presario is dead, and is likely to stay that way.
All computers are mortal, and the computer itself, considered as a species, is subject to extinctions and evolutions.
The future of techno-evolution is not with computers that drag us into rooms and chairs, but with devices we can pocket when we get out of the chair and leave the room.
All the better, too. Nerds really do need to get out, more.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie
who lives in Whitehorse.