On laptops, iPads, desks and stages

We all need a stage upon which to spill out our lives

| 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.


Gordon Wickstrom is a Boulder native, navy man in the Philippines, CU grad and Stanford Ph.D., professor of drama, director and sometime actor. He retired home to Boulder in 1991, fishes with his wife Betty, and writes books, essays and columns on the angling life and on theatre. He is the oldest living — in captivity — writer about fishing in English, and a member, for the sake of his obituary, of the Flyfishers’ Club of London.