For some peculiar reason I woke up this morning thinking about the kit that you have to have as a researcher. It’s snuck up on me I guess, this set of STUFF that I now rely on.
Maybe it’s a moment of regret at having neglected to properly farewell a trusty desktop which served me well for over ten years. I had it put together in Australia before I came to the UK, and at the time it was about as high spec as I could get. Fast and powerful it was.
I replaced the monitor with a flat screen about six years ago, but kept the tower. It worked perfectly well, in fact much better than the puny slow machine I had been given at work, so why replace it I thought.
But it didn’t have a wireless connection. And it only worked with a few USB sticks. However I devised other ways to email and deal with storage and back up. So during its lifetime I had no less than three laptops, two netbooks and an ipad to do this other work.
I liked my old machine. It was something like an old cardigan, old-fashioned but profoundly comfortable. There was a kind of solidity in its clunkiness, and a reliability that none of the ever lighter additional portable machines had.
However, eventually it had to be replaced by something else. It was still working as consistently as ever, but I just couldn’t live with the lack of functionality any more. With considerable regret I put it to one side of my desk, where it still sits adjacent to its replacement. I can’t quite seem to dispose of it yet, although I’ve not turned it on since the new computer was unpacked.
I do have a new friend in the new machine. It has a giant screen. It’s very fast. It’s a onesie too, not two separate pieces connected by ugly cables. It looks very stream-lined. It makes my old machine look like a museum piece. I don’t think I could ever go back to something like my former machine again. I love what the new one allows me to do – have the space to open up multiple documents at once, work online and on a document all at the same time –I simply can’t believe I juggled around the old one for so long.
But there’s something very Bruno Latour about all of this. It’s probably not too far a stretch to say it feels as if I’ve just moved part of my brain out of one body into another. I kept all of my files on the old machine, you see, even if they were backed up elsewhere. Because I started using Endnote in 1997, the machine housed an enormous reference list of everything I’ve read since then – over 9,000 references all with key words that I can search. The machine also housed my PhD and everything I’ve written since I moved from being a schoolie into higher education. The old machine was as much my academic career as the rest of me. It was my text work/identity work in a grey plastic case.
I think that I got networked with my old desktop and was not prepared to uncouple myself from it. I was happy to let new little gadgets into our world, but only to play subsidiary roles. It was only when the disfunctionality got overwhelming that I stopped improvising half-way solutions.
There’s no other bit of kit that has had the same place in my affections as my old desktop. I change still-cameras fairly regularly. I’m about to buy a new digital recorder that is broadcast quality and I’ll set aside the old one without a qualm. I couldn’t care less about my phone which I change every now and then. My host of USBs has largely been replaced by cloud storage with barely a blink. I always carry a flip video recorder in my bag, a piece of obsolete kit now to be sure, but pretty handy for an ethnographer to still have something like that around if needed. But I don’t feel attached to it. I do like my ipad but I can feel myself working up to buying a smaller one to use in field work. Nothing compares to the old reliable grey box.
I do wonder if this is all a bit peculiar. Is there anyone else out there who has a close and co-dependent relationship with a bit of technology?