A Week Without My Computer

Posted on October 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 3 comments

Late last week,  a classmate accidentally knocked over my laptop while I was preparing to leave class. It hit the ground with a thud, and when I picked it up I realized that it was broken.

I’d like to say that I reacted with cheerful good humor, patting my classmate on the back and telling her not to worry about it. But I didn’t. “Um, I guess write your information on this paper,” I stammered,  as if I had just survived a car accident. Mortified, she apologized profusely. “It’s ok,” I finally said.

But of course, it wasn’t ‘OK’. The plane had crashed into the mountain. The wheels had come off of the car. The train was on fire.

You see, I am very attached to my laptop. It isn’t because the laptop is particularly special, though I do like it very much. I am simply the sort of person who uses a computer all the time. I don’t own a television or a stereo, so virtually all forms of entertainment I derive from my little HP. Living without it seemed unthinkable.

Yet this is what I’ve had to do for the past week. My laptop is currently in a shop somewhere near Times Square, being attended to by the best and brightest in computer repair.  I was told to expect it back within 5 to 7 business days.

In the meantime, I’ve had to adjust to a new reality. The change became apparent to me on Saturday, the first evening without the computer. After walking through the door, I was struck with the realization that I didn’t know what to do. Normally, I’d march over and check my e-mail, turn on some music, and catch up on some blog reading that had piled up. But without my computer, none of this was possible. So I did nothing but sit on my bed and stare into space for awhile. I felt like a helpless animal.

Then, I noticed that a fair chunk of the Sunday New York Times was sitting on my kitchen table. For the uninitiated, the Sunday Times (most of which arrives on Saturday) is a beautiful thing, one of the great accomplishments of the American media. Most of the time, I barely get around to it. But this time, I tore through each section, reading even articles in the oft-neglected Sunday Styles and Real Estate sections. After a few hours I was caught up on international, national, and local events, what type of shoes Brooklyn hipsters currently favor, and learned how much one-bedroom apartments cost on the Upper West Side.

Slowly but surely, the benefits to not having a computer have accrued. I have had to write my midterm papers at the library, where there is far less to distract me, and as a result have become far more productive. My kitchen and bathroom are spotless. All of the laundry is done. I’ve even gone to the dry cleaners.

Alas, I am not totally removed from digital society. For e-mails, Facebook messages, and other forms of communications, I have my phone. For music, there’s my iPod. The situation isn’t that desperate. But I’ve come to realize just how much time I was wasting sitting in front of the computer every day. I’ve long taken pride for avoiding television, the leisurely scourge of many of my friends and family members.  But was my Internet idling much different? In retrospect, almost certainly not.

I expect to get my computer back in the next couple of days. I can’t wait. But despite the inconvenience, I’m glad in a way that our little separation has happened. Otherwise, I might not have realized that I had become a peculiarly 21st century version of a couch potato.…

Occupy Wall Street

Posted on October 11th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to visit the Occupy Wall Street movement at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. My comments on the movement have been published by The Morningside Post.…

Ode to the iPod

Posted on October 8th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

I bought my first iPod on September 26,2004. I remember this date because the next day- on the 27th- I flew to China for the first time. The two events are of course related. Since I could only bring a limited amount of belongings with me to the other side of the world, lugging around a stack of CDs seemed to be a waste of valuable space.  Also, going away for a year without my music was out of the question. I had tried that once, after all. In the summer of 1998, I agreed to live with a host family in Sassari, Italy for two months, and for some reason didn’t take any CDs with me. When I arrived to my host family’s apartment, I discovered that my room had exactly two cassettes: Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, and Legend by Bob Marley. To cure my homesickness, I listened to these two so much that by the end of the third week I knew every lyric by heart. To this day, whenever I hear songs from either of those albums I think of a stuffy little room in Sassari.

So I needed to bring music with me. The question was- which music? At that point my CD collection numbered about 500, all neatly organized in alphabetized binders. While I could have narrowed this down to the 30-odd I listened to most often, I was struck with an acute fear: what if I was sitting in my apartment in China and needed- needed- to listen to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps at that very moment? I knew I’d tear my hair out if I didn’t have it on hand.

The iPod was the obvious solution, so I bought one. I then spent the rest of that afternoon ripping my entire CD collection to iTunes, all the while selfishly ignoring my poor parents who wanted to spend the day with me. But I was adamant: putting my iPod together was as essential as any of my other preparations for the trip.  That night, as I finally drifted off to sleep, I synced the new device to my computer for the first time, panicking that if the syncing didn’t work I’d have to face the flight without it. Funny how that works.

Alas, when the morning came there it was: all of my music, so lovingly collected over the previous 12 years, there in one tiny gadget. It felt like Christmas in September.

Throughout the next two years in China the iPod was my constant companion. I used it on buses, when the noise from the karaoke video on board drove me to the point of insanity. I used it while walking through a crowd on my way to school. I turned to it when I was homesick, which happened often while living in a strange country among people who spoke a language I didn’t understand. Anytime I needed a break from China, the iPod was there for me.

I’d like to say that I still own that particular iPod, but alas I don’t; in 2006 it was stolen along with several other valuables in a bag I had carelessly left unattended. I replaced it almost immediately, and ever since have always made sure I’ve had one. When my music collection ballooned past the original CDs I owned, I made sure I purchased an iPod big enough to contain all of it. I use my iPod even though I own a smart phone that has its own MP3 player. I use it even though there’s Pandora, and Spotify, and so many other wonderful new services for us music junkies to enjoy. I use it even though I’m rarely far from my laptop, which has all of my music and then some.

My current iPod holds 160 GB of music. I use 159 of them. To some, having so much music on hand is an overindulgence. But to me, my iPod holds much more than music. It holds memories. When I listen to an album or song, I am immediately teleported back to the bungalow in Thailand, or to my freshman dorm room, or to the middle school playground when I first heard people talk about this interesting new band called Nirvana. Having all of that music on hand is a blessing. To have it all on a device the size of a playing card is nothing short of miraculous.

So- in respect to the passing of Steve Jobs, all I can say is: thanks for creating the iPod, bud. You have no idea how much it has meant to me.…