Monday, October 29, 2012

Computer woes

What is your computer to you?

  • A source of amusement and distraction?
  • A repository of photos and videos?
  • A means to keep in touch with family and friends via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter and other social media?
  • A connection to the wider world through news websites?
  • A reminder of home and familiar things?
  • A music, movie, games and podcast player?
  • A work or research tool for storing precious data?
  • An extension of your brain and a requirement to get work done?
What would you do if it died unexpectedly?

The hard drive on our two-and-a-half month old laptop is broken. It happened Friday morning, for no apparent reason.

I'd woken up early to finish the questionnaire for my interviews and the guidelines for the participatory video component of my field research. I'd spent several hours working and reworking them on Thursday. I wanted to bring polished copies to my colleagues at the Third World Studies Center at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where I am a visiting research fellow.

The laptop turns on, but won't go past the initial black screen with the white writing in the font all computers seemed to use in the 1980s.

F, infinitely more tech-savvy than me, patiently tried every trick he knows to fix the problem. No dice. He's heavily invested in the functioning of the laptop too. To him, it's a connection to home and Canadian life: months worth of video games to play while I'm off conducting interviews, internet-based "geek news" to read, Quirks and Quarks podcasts to listen to while cooking supper, ... In other words, it's a tool for dealing with homesickness, and a means for mitigating culture shock.

F spends Friday traipsing around Quezon City seeking a computer fix. At Philcoa, he alights a jeepney headed for the SM North mall. It has a specialty MSI store (our laptop brand). A traffic cop stops the jeepney. The stop is long enough for F to look back and notice a computer repair shop on the second floor of Philcoa. He disembarks and walks back. He drops the laptop off at the computer repair shop, leaving specific instructions to not format it. Three hours later, he receives a text message asking if the laptop is under warranty. F returns to Philcoa, and declines the offer to physically open the laptop, extract data from the hard drive, thereby voiding the warranty. F hops on another jeepney heading for SM North. The MSI store staff can't do anything except direct him to the MSI service center, which, being October 26th and a holiday, is closed.

On Monday, F continues on his quest. It starts with a chaotic and crushing trip on the MRT (Manila's equivalent of the metro/subway system). The service center consists of three desks. The only staff present tells F that it'll take at least 30 to 45 business days for them to do anything because it's an international warranty, because parts need to be shipped in from Taiwan ... the list goes on. 

*       *       *       *       *

Luckily, we backed up our photos and my research material a few days before "the crash". All F's games and our music and podcasts are gone, as are all of the programs installed on the laptop. 

It is proving to be a frustrating experience, and also one that forces us to think about the central role our computer plays in our lives. It changes the way we think, keep informed and connected, interact with others, keep in touch from afar, and be entertained. The experience is also forcing me to plan out my research with pen and paper - a practice that seems so foreign to me. Depending on how the repairs unfold (or not) will change - to an extent - what I'd planned to do (or how much I planned to spend on replacement equipment).  

Flexibility and a sense of humour... two of the greatest assets a field researcher can possess.


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  2. Is this a bad time to tell F that I don't use the special cloth to clean his monitor? Jk. Hope you guys are doing well. This reminds me, I should water the plants