You know that feeling when you are sitting on the floor by the dusty disassembled guts of a computer and nothing works at all? It won’t even give a healthy cheep on startup? And then, slowly, it all comes together, until everything works, except, perhaps, sound, and you change something to fix that, and then nothing works at all again: you’re back in the smell of dust and silence and you can’t undo?
You will swear, when you finally recover, never to upgrade anything again. Yet you will. And I don’t know why, or didn’t, until I stumbled on a lovely passage in Ellen Ullman’s Close to the Machine, still the best book I know about the psychology of nerding.
I’m upset, so I’m taking apart my computers. If I were a poet, I’d get drunk and yell at the people I love. As it is, I’m gutting my machines.
My computers are not broken, but at times like these I like the look of delicate circuit boards open to the naked air. Several hours ago, in a fit of restlessness, I decided to install a pre-release version of a new operating system. Then there seemed to be problems with some of the internal devices. So I took them out, one after the other. Now they lie all around me—cards, wires, memory modules, screws—all in a jumble. To test components, I do what I’m absolutely not supposed to do: run the machines with the covers off. I’m supposed to discharge static electricity before touching anything. But I scuff around on the carpets, grab things with two hands, hold metal to metal. I recognize the nastiness of this mood, reckless and rebellious, like I could get away with breaking the laws of physics.
There’s a perverse comfort in broken machinery.
Reading this, I realised that the rage is itself an attractive part of the process because it feels so good when it is over, and everything dissolves into order. There is something in this process of destruction and recreation that resembles the state that long articles and still more radio programmes get into, just before they get right: everything is spread out in ways that look chaotic to everyone except me, and even I can’t quite explain how they will go back together. I can only show, if I keep my concentration. The element of risk makes it far more attractive than the times when everything goes smoothly and by routine. You feel you have discovered a hidden order to the universe. Alternatively, as sometimes happens, you take it all apart and it never ever goes back together properly. All you are left with is a heap of broken junk. But that’s more common with words than with computers.