I’m one of the few truly poor people who owns a computer. I went for several years without one, or at least without a computer worth mentioning. Back in 2000, my mother bought me a Dell laptop. That was all I had until 2008. That may not seem too horrible, but over time this laptop literally fell to pieces.
It was a Saturday night in early 2003, and I was in college, at home, working on a term paper on my Dell laptop. Yes, that’s how awesome I was in college. I had written my paper mostly in a notebook while I had done my research. I spent most of that Saturday typing it up and then putting my snippets of research in order. The paper was due Monday, and I had been doing research for over two weeks. I had read several books in that time. I had finally typed everything up at around 10:30 pm. Out of nowhere, my computer crashed. The file was irretrievable.
After a fair amount of freaking out, I started over with my first scrap of notes. At around midnight, my space bar fell off mid-sentence. I struggled with it, but it would not pop back on. On laptops (or at least that particular model) there was a tiny “button” in the space where the space bar should have been, and by tapping it, I was able to make spaces. I type approximately 75 words per minute, and faster if I stop caring about accuracy or self-correction, but the lack of a space bar slowed me down to a crawl.
Over the course of a week or two, I adapted to my new keyboard. I was able to type just as fast as I had before, but that first night was hellish. I did not sleep at all as I had to retype 15-20 pages about the osteology of growing children. Slowly. S-L-O-W-L-Y. At least I got an A.
The next thing to go was the hinge on the monitor. I had to prop the monitor up at certain angles to keep it from falling flat. Sometimes the whole monitor would turn black because it was yanking on the inner cords. I called customer service, and they told me that it would cost at least $900 to fix. I didn’t have $900, and even if I did, I would have just bought a new computer.
Over time, the monitor became more and more temperamental; it required me to prop it up at very specific angles in order to work at all, but due to the hinge being broken, it couldn’t stay in that position by itself. I had it on my wobbly desk (which I’d gotten for free when a neighbor left it behind) propped up against a stack of books. One day, the movement of the wobbly desk caused the stack of books to topple over. Along with the books went my computer. In a shot I couldn’t have made if I tried, the laptop landed in the wastebasket next to the desk. The monitor never showed anything but blackness ever again.
I had no money at this point. I had a part-time job that paid $9.00 an hour. I had rent to pay, medical bills, and food to buy. I went to a local computer shop. I was lucky that it was independently owned by a bunch of geeks. I wanted to see how much a small computer monitor would cost. They were all out of my range (which was admittedly not much of a range), but the geek boys had a really old, clunky monitor hanging around. It was probably from the early ‘90s. One of the guys just gave it to me and told me it wasn’t really worth anything to them. That allowed me to use a computer for a while. At least until the disk drive and CD-ROM drive broke, too.
For 15 months, I had a really boring receptionist job that allowed –nay, encouraged–me to goof off online all day. I was able to complete all of my job duties in approximately 45 minutes a day, yet I was required to sit on my ass for 8 hours and 30 minutes, not including my hour-long lunch break. The phone didn’t ring much, so I spent a lot of time looking at Cute Overload. I also became a rather adroit cruciverbalist. During that time, I didn’t really miss having a computer much. I couldn’t afford Internet at home, and most of what I needed a computer for required Internet, so my lump of a computer was pretty useless. Also, I had over seven hours a day to complete all of my online business and tomfoolery, so I didn’t need Internet at home.
Within the first few weeks of graduate school, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to function well without a home computer. I lived approximately 11 miles from campus, and with typical Seattle rush hour traffic, that can be quite a journey. As a student, I take a LOT of motivation, and knowing that I would have to take one of those trips to campus to type up my paper was more than enough to make me procrastinate. There are local libraries near me, but they limit your computer time to one hour per day, which doesn’t accommodate my marathon-writing lifestyle. Also, my classes often had online components, and it simply wasn’t feasible to travel that far just for Internet access. I borrowed a lot of extra money my first term, and I bought myself a lovely MacBook. I also bought her some lovely decals, and I call her “Red.”
Unfortunately, when I first got Red, I had no home access to wifi. I didn’t have any neighbors with open networks, so I couldn’t steal it! I eventually got a deal with a ClearWire account, which has since been canceled due to nonpayment. One day I was surfing around online and realized that I had accidentally unplugged my broadband router. I wasn’t connected, yet I was still online. I was stealing wifi! Hallelujah! All was fine until about a month ago when my wifi went out. It seems to go out sporadically now, once every couple of weeks. If I had the ClearWire to back it up, I wouldn’t mind. How am I supposed to be connected to the tubes? I don’t live terribly close to any cafes with free wifi. If I lived in a more densely-populated area (with a much higher rent) I wouldn’t have this problem, but for now I’m stuck.
My computer has become my best emotional stabilizer on many levels. I almost never answer my telephone because of debt collector calls, so my computer is my main social outlet outside of face-to-face interactions. I am unapologetically in love with television, so Hulu has also become a big part of my life. Hulu.com is the poor man’s cable, and the poorer man’s Netflix account. I never bought a digital converter for my television, and my Netflix account got canceled when I maxed out my credit card. Hulu provides easy escape, entertainment, and even nostalgic comfort. I can relive my childhood with episodes of Inspector Gadget or catch up on 30 Rock or The Colbert Report. I can even watch movies. Of course this does me no good when my neighbor’s wifi either doesn’t work or is sluggish.
I haven’t put much thought into what material things I really want in life because I have been so focused on survival for so long. Computers are important, though. With the exception of my first few years of poverty, I haven’t been without a computer since I was four years old. Computers have been teachers and friends, as sad as that sounds. One day, Red and I are going to take over the world.