When the computer doesn’t do what my father wants it to do, he’ll shrug and say, “Digital Fatigue. That’s the problem.” It’s a diagnosis that delights my children. They love the idea of a computer just getting tired and cranky, the way an eight-year-old might.
My parents have needed a new computer for a while now. When any of the grandchildren send them a link to a photo album, it takes them hours to actually see the photos because they load so slowly. And they can’t watch vidoes at all. My father will say. “Our machine isn’t powerful enough.”
The computer they’ve been using is the first one they’ve ever had, a gift from their kids and grandkids, and they’ve hung onto it loyally, far longer than they should have. Partly, this is because they have a hard time grasping how quickly computers become outdated and non-functional. “It’s only eight years old,” my father will say. To him, that’s practically brand new.
My father is the kind of person who builds things to last forever. The wooden doll furniture that he built for me in 1960s? It’s as sturdy as ever, waiting in my basement for the grandchildren I’ll have some day. If Apple ever hires my father, people will be passing computers down through generations.
My parents’ most recent computer crisis began last week when my father sent an email out to the family, saying that his computer had “picked up a terrible virus” and that they’d lost all of their photos. He said that when he tried to find the photos, he just saw a bunch of words in German. His tech savvy grandchildren were delighted with his vision of a mysterious German virus. With-a-Why immediately pulled up this reassuring Venn diagram. The younger generation were also adamant that the aging computer needed to be replaced.
I went to their house, picked up their computer, and brought it to the Apple store. It was easy enough to find a comparable computer to replace the old one, but I ran into problems when I asked about retrieving the old data. The crew at the Genius Bar, it turns out, are not geniuses at all. They seemed to know less about computers than me. “It’s a vintage computer,” said one young man. “We can’t retrieve the data.”
“All their photos?” I asked. “They’re just gone?” He shrugged.
“What about the music?” I asked. My father has hundreds of songs. These aren’t songs taken off commercial CDs, but numbers that he’s arranged, played with the grandchildren, and recorded. Many of them are backed up on my computer and on CDs he’s burned, but I know he’d still prefer to just log on and have his music files still there on his hard drive.
“I guess you could try using a thumb drive,” he said.
I texted Boy-in-Black, who was driving home from a physics conference, where he’d just given a paper on “Minimal Spanning Trees on Percolation Clusters.” (Yep, that’s really the title.)
“A thumb drive?” he asked. “Who calls it that? An ethernet cord would be far more efficient.”
By the time Boy-in-Black arrived, I had everything set up in the living room: my parents’ old computer, which was not really functioning, and the new computer, which was running fine but completely blank. My husband rummaged through his laptop case and found an ethernet cord.
“We have to make the new computer look almost exactly like the old one,” I said. “I don’t want this to be too big of a learning curve.”
Boy-in-Black set up his own computer, connected everything, and went to work. He rescued the photos. He transferred the data. He even looked at their POP mail and rebuilt all the mailboxes, although my father’s organizational system made him grin. “Seriously? Why does he have all these mailboxes?” he said. “We need to set them up with gmail and teach him how to use search.”
“One thing at a time,” I said.
Boy-in-Black was thorough. He even went through their photos to find the same screensaver so that the new computer looked exactly like the old one. I doublechecked applications to make sure the settings matched the ones on the old computer. Then I set my parents up with a gmail account and I made a facebook page for my mother.
And now — my parents are back online. In fact, they’re probably reading this post. My mother sent Boy-in-Black a batch of homemade cookies, a gesture which has probably assured her a lifetime of tech support. She’s friended everyone in the family on facebook. My father has been getting adjusted to the newly updated iPhoto and has been working on the project of sorting all his photographs. He reports that the new “machine” is working just fine.