Changes in Latitude

This column appeared Tuesday, May 8, 2018 in The Manhattan Mercury.


At the time, Tuesday, October 18, 2011 was a day like any other. I got up, went to work and came home. The sun rose and set. The autumn leaves turned from green to gold and red. That same day, on an island in the Fujian province of the People’s Republic of China, the laptop computer upon which I am writing this newspaper column rolled off the assembly line.

Six-and-a-half years later, my Dell Latitude’s days are numbered, and I will soon be forced into a geography that lies outside the boundaries of my comfort zone.

My relationship with technology was not always arms’ length. I can adapt as easily as the next man, provided the next man’s not Kanye West. In the ‘80s, I embraced the desktop computer with zeal, but my adaptation began to decelerate a couple of years ago as Kipling rang in my ears.

If you can keep your Latitude when all about you are losing theirs and transitioning to the tablet, then you’ll be a man, my son. Problem is, I couldn’t. Keep my Latitude, that is. Try this new state-of-the-art Microsoft Surface Pro, they said. It can do everything your laptop can do and more, they said. It was half laptop, half tablet and wholly confusing.

It’s either an apple or a banana. It cannot be both, my inner conformist whispered.

I learned how to type in high school journalism hunting and pecking on manual typewriters, skill trending upward for decades. I can crank 60-80 words per minute, but it’s predicated on the ability to actually push a button. The key must physically depress. Touch-screen keyboards discombobulate my rhythm and I am adrift at sea.

Kipling gave way to my father. “Find a winner and stick with it,” a lesson from childhood that stuck. The sentiment applies to blue jeans, salad dressing, and as it turns out, laptop computers.  

I struggled for a month with the Surface Pro before hoisting the distress flag. Passed it along to a millennial colleague, dusted off my Latitude and immediately fell back into happiness and well-being. It’s comfortable like an old pair of shoes. We have a history.

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On this computer, I wrote a book, designed a host of communications plans, strategic outlines and operational frameworks, sent a few thousand emails, discovered a whole new genre of alt music, wrote my father’s eulogy, shared a couple hundred actual conversations with my wife via social media and transitioned from hard copy newspapers.  

Every time I open it, I gotta blow a dog’s worth of hair off the keyboard. The touch pad fairly shines from six-and-a-half years’ worth of index finger skin oil. Many of the actual letters have worn off the keys. The little tabs holding the Caps Lock key have broken off, leaving it perched precariously.  

The hard drive spectrum screams red and is less than a gigabyte from being full. When I sign in, I find myself confronted with system-related flags prophesying all manner of electronic doom and gloom.

“… because of a problem that occurred with your paging file configuration.”

Click OK.

“Your battery is reaching the end of its usable life…”

I’m on my third battery. Click OK with a tear welling in my eye.
 
Reluctantly, I venture into uncharted waters, just to get a glimpse of the future. I want to ask the blue-shirted kid at Best Buy, “Got any 2011 Dell Latitudes?” But I know the answer. The newer laptops beckon, sleeker and skinnier.

My current working plan for the day when the blue screen of death arrives is to commandeer my wife’s Dell laptop and she’ll upgrade to new, sleek and skinny. Hers is not quite as old as mine and has keys that depress. But it’s not my Latitude.

Maybe I’ve evolved as much as I’m going to, related to information appliances. The angular distance between my comfort level and lack of tolerance for newer, sleeker, skinnier seems to have remained pretty constant. Maybe I have no latitude to expand my laptop computer horizons. Maybe Kipling and my old man were right.    

Six-and-a-half years, half a continent and an ocean away from the origin of my Latitude, I can easily pinpoint my place, in relation to the digital celestial equator. A handful of degrees north of set in my ways and a few minutes shy of willing to change.

Steady as she goes.