A Love Letter to my Laptop

This is my first ever time taking part in an IndieWeb carnival and this is my submission for February, hosted by Manuel Moreale. The topic this month is Digital Relationships.

Obviously, technology has greatly improved and enabled how we interact with other people in digital spaces. Instead, I wanted to write about my direct relationship with the digital world. Specifically, my laptop is my main tool and entry point to digital worlds, both public and private.

I purchased my laptop the summer before I started college in 2017 and it was a gift from my grandparents. My summer job didn’t quite give me enough money to buy the one that I really wanted. At the time, one of the best laptops on the market was the Dell XPS 15 9560 and that is what I got. It had many great reviews and I knew it would hold up to the heavy use of engineering school. It even had a touchscreen, fingerprint reader, and a better graphics card than my friend John’s who bought the same one the previous year. I remember opening the box to reveal its lightly textured, matte silver finish. It was the nicest physical thing I had ever owned up to that point, including my used Subaru Forester with the giant dent in the driver’s side door. I didn’t know it at the time but this laptop would become one of the most important tools of my life, right up to me writing about it right now.

For my first year of school, my laptop allowed me to complete assignments, check out books at the library, do career/school research, and entertain me when I was feeling anti-social (which was most of the time, admittedly). John and I would also play PUBG: BATTLEGROUNDS and Call of Duty: Warzone at his townhouse. It would get hot to the touch as the small but mighty fans tried their best to cool it. But, it did everything I expected it to do. I had never really learned much about computers growing up besides how to use them to do the basics.

I really started using my laptop to its potential when I decided to learn Python on a whim during the winter break. At Oregon State, I had a whole month off and only a week of that was dedicated to going home to see family. I worked through the ubiquitous Automating the Boring Stuff book and learned how to install Python and how to write and run programs. There were times when I would get frustrated with my laptop, through no fault of its own. I now know that it usually isn’t a computer-problem when it does something unexpected. It’s usually a human-problem, as much as I hated to admit it.

As I progressed in my engineering school career, I threw more intensive programs at it. It plugged through thousands and thousands of mathematical calculations in MatLab during a Numerical Methods course. It spat out the homework answers after running a meticulously crafted Julia script. It slowly but surely calculated flow rates, pressures, and temperatures in Aspen, a chemical process modeling software. It opened up giant Excel spreadsheets with pages and pages of poorly labeled calculations that made sense when I typed them in but definitely didn’t now. My laptop enabled me to get so much rigorous learning done.

After graduating, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. It was during COVID, I was burnt out and mildly depressed, and had no direction. I had picked up a pretty strong interest in computing and programming at that point and I kept reading about needing to know Linux if you really want to upgrade your skills. So, having never done anything like it, I installed a completely new operating system on my laptop. I wanted to be able to dual boot Windows and Ubuntu 20.04, just in case Linux wasn’t for me. I was sweaty mess while installing it, as I wrote in April 2022:

If you want to install Ubuntu for yourself, avoid doing it on the only computer you have. It is absolutely terrifying when it inevitably doesn’t boot on the first try if it is your first time doing this sort of thing…installing it on your only job-searching/coding/working machine is not for the faint of heart.

I did that and was having a lot of fun learning more deeply about technology. My next interest turned to this whole data science and AI thing that was all the rage. I thought I’d try my hand at that so I went through a few Coursera courses and did all the work. My poor laptop would sit in my room for hours at a time, the fans whirring as fast as they could, while doing numerical calculations that should really only be reserved for servers dedicated to the task. But that was economically prohibitive at the time so I used what I had.

At the same time, I was doing a few other small projects on my laptop in the name of fun and learning. I built my own website (a wildly more complex version of this one), wrote some small programs for a local business, built a Discord bot that flung insults and pleasantries at my friends, started a newsletter with my friend Jacob, and estimated how profitable it would be to create a solar farm down the street.

Finally, in May of 2022, when I was really lost and at the peak of my depression, Peace Corps finally emailed me, extending an invite to be a volunteer in Morocco. This was The Big Thing I was waiting for. COVID ripped it out of my hands but the time had finally come. I wrote at the time that “I did a fist pump, had a small joyful cry on the porch, and accepted the position” but I now recognize that to be an understatement. I was bawling in the lawn hugging my dog Apollo because nobody was home to see me. The relief of finally having a purpose after so long without one was overwhelming.

Then, my laptop became a research machine. I googled everything there was to know about Morocco, Peace Corps, and youth development. There are also so many legal and medical tasks to complete before you actually get on the plane so I filled out all kinds of forms and appointment requests, too. I’m sure it was grateful for the lighter workload.

As I packed all my bags to go live in Morocco for the next 27 months, my laptop had a special padded slot in the backpack Jacob loaned me (yes, I’m going to return it). On December 12, 2022, my laptop’s first time on a plane and my third, we headed to Washington D.C. to start the next chapter of my life.

Now, my laptop continues to do so much for me. I have added stickers to the keycaps so that I can type out slideshows in Arabic for life skills lessons. It sits and listens as I type all my thoughts, feelings, difficult times, goals, and ideas into notes in its file system. It pushed through the Moroccan summer heat with me. It runs a Python script every Friday morning to generate a weather report for all the volunteers and new friends of mine in the country. I’m using it to collaborate with other volunteers and Peace Corps staff to empower women in Morocco through their own digital literacy. I share Moroccan culture and posts like this with tens of people on the internet through my website because of this laptop.

As I’m writing this, I can’t help but think maybe this relationship is strange. Maybe I have too much dependence on my devices and that I shouldn’t rely on technology so much. I shouldn’t be so materialistic or be so attached. But when you spend that much time during some of your most profound years with any one thing, living or otherwise, it is bound to become sentimental.

But, more than anything, I feel grateful for this little machine. I wouldn’t be where or who I am today without my laptop, this laptop. It opened up so many doors for me and continues to be a crucial tool for learning, creating, connecting, working, writing, and growing.

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Written by Human, Not by AI