On laptops, iPads, desks and stages
Gordon Wickstrom | May 17, 2010
I think of what, when one day we go away, what will become of all this intimacy left behind on our hard-drives. Plato’s cave, now empty.
I think there must be an entire generation who have committed themselves wholly to their laptops. Their laptops promise them: “Wheresoever you are, there will I be also”– your paraclete.
And now there is the iPad, even more on-the-go portable.
Me, in my old-fashioned way, I think I need all this accumulation of stuff around me. I need this entire room, this work-bench, this desk, all the memorabilia and general impedimenta of my secret life — while those of the entire generation of which I write need only their laptops, their iPads and a place to charge their batteries.
In a way, these new instruments are like those talismans of our childhood: a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, a Dick Tracy wrist radio, doll houses, private chests in private corners, those magic, singular, total containments, which in their mysterious way contained us, crammed us into a safe, private, tiny, inviolate space, holding secure all that is valuable and dear, secret, and self-identifying.
When I was a boy, my parents had made for me a rather simple but very nice desk with two drawers and a back of pigeon-holes for this and that. That desk became my haven. I knew that no one would touch it. It was utterly safe, a place for those small objects, like my samples of gold ore, that mysteriously represented the world to me, into which I projected so much consciousness. That desk was my universe and my joy, and I alone knew its password.
I think a laptop or an iPad can be, for many, what that desk was for me. Only now so superbly portable, and in style.
Solemn laptop devotees
I passed a coffee shop downtown the other day in which were eight tables, seven of them topped with laptops. Their solemn devotees sat before them at their devotions, precisely as I think I did at my desk so long ago. They sat there in the same way that I sat at my desk to tie flies and tell over my secret possessions.
I wonder if we all, in one way or another, do not feel the need for a safe, secure, and private repository outside ourselves for our intimacies. Like my boyhood desk, these repositories are sites of compression, reduction in scale, and containment, a kind of “other world” in which we can live.
Isn’t a stage in a theatre something like this? Does not the stage fill a similar need in us for a compacted, miniature world, one magically and altogether responsive to our imagination, if not our love?
The stage, like my desk and your laptop, is a place, a space, for the imagination to enchant its work.
Those young people hovering over their laptops in that coffee shop were staging themselves on that tiny stage of a screen. I feel fortunate indeed to have come from my small desk, you maybe from your screen, to a stage filled with a company of kindred living souls, all those beloved actors who, over a lifetime, have helped me to see into other worlds.