I spent fifty hours setting up my new computer, and I feel a mixture of shame and pride about it.
We spend a lot of our lives in our computers. Working, socializing, relaxing. On the work laptop, at the home desktop, on the phone in bed.
We live in our computers, and we do little things to make ourselves feel more at home in them — a little more cozy. We change the wallpaper, install some new apps, buy a pretty case and some stickers for the back. We find ways to make our devices different from other peoples’. We personalize what we can. What we’re permitted.In 2008, I bought my first iPhone. Shortly after, I bought my first Macbook Pro. Coming from Linux, the Apple ecosystem felt clean and fresh. It felt like checking into a hotel. Everything I will need was laid out on the counter, and anything else could be arranged by the concierge (perhaps for a fee). I made myself at home.
Over the years, I started to feel disassociated from my devices. They were mine, but they didn’t feel mine. The immersion of ownership would frequently break as a corporate policy kicked my favorite app out of their store, or a feature I wanted was forbidden by the exposed API, or the pressure to buy newer hardware grew each year with forced software upgrades.
Imagine living in a hotel. You check in, put your backpack down on the luggage rack, and kick off your shoes. It’s a little different from your last hotel, but also the same. A television that you avoid, not because there is work to do but because the remote looks kind of gross. A lamp that is using up the only power outlet next to the bed, which you need for charging your phone overnight. There is a desk, but the padded office chair doesn’t lift enough to use it comfortably.
You’ll be in the hotel for a while, so you can make yourself comfortable and add a bit of yourself to it. You request a fish bowl from the concierge, and you name the fish Chee (short for Cheeto). You bring some chocolates from the Quik Mart a few streets away. You play some music on the complementary bluetooth speaker.
Ultimately, the hotel is an organism that operates outside of you. The unfinished chocolates disappear after a cleaning. The speaker keeps disconnecting sporadically. They take Chee away.
I switched to Android a few years back (after Lollipop came out, the first good Android). This week, I am giving up my fourth Macbook Pro — my final Apple device. Apple makes beautiful devices that were unrivaled for a long time, but convenience and uniformity comes at a price. I have come to crave fragmentation.The shame is obvious: I didn’t spend those fifty hours doing things like building better insulin control software for diabetic people or campaigning for affordable housing.
I spent those hours building my perfect computer home. Like a fresh cabin in the wilderness, there were some false starts. Some kernel modules were missing, or the full-disk encryption was misconfigured. At one point, about twenty hours in, I knocked it all down and started from the foundation again.
I learned very much — about binary firmware embedding in the kernel and LUKS disk encryption and systemd quirks.
More than anything, I made it feel mine. I will keep tweaking everything throughout the lifetime of this laptop and I’m sure much of the configuration will survive to the next. Lay out some area rugs, new cutlery, softer lighting, art for the walls. Hopefully not fifty hours in one week, but a few hours here and there. With each improvement, I will feel more at home, and there is no limit to what I can do.
I am proud of my new computer home.