When my husband and I bought our first tablet computer for the family six or seven years ago, we were mistaken about several things.
First of all, the whole concept of having one tablet for three people was a huge mistake. Really, the gadgets are designed to serve one master. More importantly, one of the people supposedly sharing the device was a tween. Once our kid discovered its capabilities, my husband and I never saw the tablet again — aside from the mandatory parental security reviews.
We were equally mistaken about how we would use the device. We thought of it as a toy, for the most part. I remember being particularly enthusiastic about an astronomy app that helped identify constellations. I used that app once and deleted it years ago.
We intended to use it for writing, but couldn’t imagine using that silly little on-screen keyboard for anything longer than a few paragraphs. We invested in an external keyboard to use with it. After about a week, we ditched the keyboard and never looked back. My husband has now written two novels on his tablet and is working on a third. The vast majority of my columns over the last few years have been written on one.
In the course of the next few Christmases, we bought additional tablets, until eventually we each had our own. The more we used the tablets, the less we used the old desktop computer. There were a few games that worked only on it. Sometimes a project would require the use of a larger screen. And about once a year, I’d store photos off my tablet, smart phone and camera on its hard drive.
But aside from that, we didn’t have much use for it.
In the summer of 2016, we moved. The computer sat in a closet at the new house for a few months, until our kid made the mistake of asking to use it to play Minecraft. We hauled it to her room, she used it once or twice and then it just sat there, untouched, for almost a year. We couldn’t figure out where to put it, and no one seemed to have any particular use for it.
Earlier this month, events conspired to revive the desktop.
I encountered a website that didn’t work properly with a tablet just as the teen embarked on a serious room-cleaning project and wanted that dusty old computer gone. And then my tablet ran out of memory, which means it’s time to transfer some photos to the computer’s ample hard drive.
I hauled the computer into my craft room, crammed it onto a small table in the corner and fired it up. It was like opening a time capsule, only a little more difficult. Security-minded as I am, I had never written down the log-in password. It took the better part of an hour to figure that out.
But once I had successfully logged in, it was summer of 2016 again. The computer hadn’t been connected to the internet since then, so not even the email account had updated. Pretty much everything was about the impending move.
Then I dug into my photos and videos: all 10,000-plus of them. There’s the first video clip from my first digital camera: 15 seconds of my 2-year-old toddler tapping buttons on the old Power Mac computer my future husband and I bought in the mid-’90s. The sleek white eMac that had just replaced it is visible at the right of the screen.
Entranced, I watched videos of our first dog, Frix, bounding through the snow at our old house. I saw my Mom, who died 12 years ago, playing with my little angel. Birthday parties, Halloween nights, Christmas trees, forgotten faces, milestones and moments of no consequence whatsoever, all had been locked away on that hard drive, waiting for me.
After losing a few hours to those memories, I logged the computer into the wi-fi and opened the web browser. There were more memories awaiting me there, in an unexpected form: bookmarks.
Honestly, I seldom use bookmarks anymore. The browser on my computer at work is set up to automatically open the windows I need upon launch. If I need another site, I type the first few characters of the URL and the browser suggests the rest. On the tablet, I just keep a bunch of tabs open.
The bookmarks on the computer were like a family history. We’ve all used the computer over the years, and at some point all of the bookmarks got combined: My sites on beads, genealogy, travel and history; my husband’s on science, politics and geekery; our kid’s on anime, anime and anime. A good number of them were for sites that have long since vanished.
I have decided that my one resolution for the coming year is to spend more time on the computer — and by that I mean less time trudging mindlessly through social media feeds on the tablet. When I first sat down in front of that Power Mac more than 20 years ago, the Internet was a place to explore and learn. I wanted a computer in the first place because I saw it as a tool for creativity, and it has been way too long since I created anything (other than a newspaper) on a digital device.
So welcome, 2018: Let’s see what we can make of the next 12 months