Elizabeth Day: My laptop saved my life

I recently underwent a major life change. It left me questioning things I’d previously taken for granted and unable to know who my real friends were. I was confused and discombobulated. I felt detached from my usual reality and found it difficult to communicate.

Yes, that’s right. I upgraded my mobile phone. I’d happily been using a battered old iPhone for two years, and had become accustomed to its eccentricities: the way it suddenly ran out of battery with no warning. The way I had to delete apps in order to clear storage space for new ones. The tiny air bubble trapped under the protective screen that I could never get rid of.

Jenny Brough

I was presented with a shiny new one called, simply, ‘X’ as if it were an Ed Sheeran album. The technology was different and I had to get used to a whole new way of doing things. Some of my telephone numbers had transferred but others had, bafflingly, been lost in
the ether. Occasionally I would receive a text along the lines of ‘Thinking of you and sending loads of love’ festooned with heart emojis, and I would be put in the embarrassing position of having to reply asking who they were. I would, in turn, receive a slightly stiff text from a friend who could now work out that they weren’t important enough for me to have backed up their contact details.

And then my laptop broke. This was a 2015 MacBook Air I had bought in the aftermath of my divorce, when I’d moved out of the marital home. It was the most I’d ever spent on a single object, and when I went to the Apple Store and handed over my credit card any queasiness I might have felt was overridden by a stronger sense of daring. It felt as though buying this laptop was a statement of intent: I would take a risk, I would leap into the unknown and I would be all right because I had this computer and a way of making a living with it.

I spent the best part of a year living in other people’s houses, in two different countries. The laptop travelled everywhere with me. When I opened up its screen to write or to watch a Netflix box-set or to email my friends, I felt at home, even when I wasn’t. I wrote three books on that laptop. I launched a podcast with it. I went freelance for the first time. I moved into my own rented flat and set it up on a desk in a bay window. I used it so much that I rubbed off the letters on the keyboard and could no longer read the N, D, E or M buttons. Towards the end, it started making whooshing sounds and overheating any time I perched it on my lap to catch up on Love Island. Then, last week, the screen started flickering and it lost its sound and went black for the final time.

I went to the local computer repair shop and was surprised how emotional I was when the man behind the counter told me there was no hope. He sweetly offered to take a photo of me with it, before my trusty MacBook Air was ‘ethically recycled’, whatever that might mean.

The thing was, that laptop had represented so much more to me than just a screen and a keyboard. It had shown me how strong I was on my own. It had made me realise all the things that were possible.

So here I am now with a new laptop with a bigger screen and a new phone without a home
button, and I’m getting used to them both. I am nostalgic for my old technological friends but I’m also aware of the capacity for reinvention. It feels like turning a page and being able to write whatever you want on the next blank sheet.

It was only later that a friend pointed out those worn-out MacBook keys had spelled out the word ‘MEND’. In the end, I couldn’t mend my laptop. But I have no doubt that it mended me.

This week I’m…

Applying

Institut Esthederm Adaptasun Mer et Tropiques suntan lotion. Absorbs quickly, gives great protection and has a fancy French name.

Wearing

A Dos Gardenias bikini. It’s the best, most comfortable, chic and flattering swimwear I’ve
ever found.

Reading

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I know I’m behind the curve on this novel, but it was more than worth the wait.