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Ghost in the Machine 

by Mike Corrigan & r & It's true. There is an intimate personal relationship that exists between Mac users and their machines -- a relationship that is unique within the cosmos of personal computing, a relationship largely unknown to those running Windows on those ubiquitous, utilitarian PCs. Mac users interact with their machines much as they would with a friend or family member. I know because I'm one of them.


I've spent my entire computing life with Apple's Macintosh, beginning with a boxy, beige, all-in-one Classic II. Ten years and several upgrades down the road, I've come to think of Macs as more than just powerful and user-friendly tools, but as trusted friends. But until quite recently, I'd never stopped to consider that perhaps they think of me in the same way.


A few weeks back, I witnessed the swift and undignified death of my trusty sidekick, my work computer, a 6-year-old blueberry iMac, the only computer I'd used during my Inlander tenure. It was unexpected and horrific. And it haunts me to this day.


For six years, that machine dutifully performed every task I assigned it without so much as a whimper. It rarely crashed, and when it did, a simple restart was the only remedy required to get it back up and running smoothly. Recently it had really been showing its age. But other than its relative slowness compared to newer machines at the paper, I had few complaints.


Yet over the summer there was scuttlebutt around the office that no potentially sentient (and, as it turned out, overly emotional) machine could ignore: buzz that I was soon to receive an upgrade. Worse, there were rumors in the air that I would soon be leaving my post at the Inlander.


My computer kept up a brave fa & ccedil;ade, cheerfully opening pages and accepting downloaded files like nobody's business, even after I gave notice. Everything was peaches and cream until exactly one week before I was to hand over my position, my Rolodex and, yes, my blueberry iMac, to my replacement. The final blow to my silicon friend's apparently already fragile state of mind came on the day I was training that very replacement. That day, he and I were sitting there -- in front of my devoted little friend -- as I imparted workflow procedure, writing tips and network information necessary for the smooth, efficient transition of journalistic power.


At one point, with my replacement seated next to me, I reached up, took the computer's mouse in hand and clicked on a desktop icon. The action didn't open the browser as expected. Instead, the two of us were treated to the most sickening sounds I've ever heard from a computer, something akin to the sounds a tin can makes as it's being riddled with buckshot. I don't know that much about these things, but I do know that "pa-tinggg" and "clunk" are pretty much the last sounds you want to hear from your computer. I tried restarting it -- with similarly appalling results. My iMac seemed to be down for the count, and it didn't look like it was coming back.


I couldn't believe it. Hadn't I just been gushing about what a great little machine it had been all these years? Why was my partner choosing this moment -- a moment prior to the final transfer of all my stuff from its hard drive, by the way -- to die? After my torrent of obscenities abated, a feeling crept over me, prompting a question: Had my iMac committed suicide?


While pondering this possibility, I attempted restart after restart until finally, my critically ailing computer came back to me. While murmuring sweet words of encouragement, I moved all of my files to the company server for safekeeping, a process that was to take several nail-biting minutes. Then, at the precise moment my computer friend had completed this task, it once again flat-lined. Multiple attempts were made to resuscitate it, all in vain. It was gone. This time, forever.





In the immediate aftermath, I became convinced that this was not a random event or a simple coincidence. Clearly my iMac -- despondent over our imminent breakup and unwilling to become the servant of someone new -- took its own life, choosing to go out on its own terms in spectacular fashion, returning briefly to grant its master's final request, before hurling itself into oblivion. It would rather die than go on living without me. That was a heavy burden to bear -- for the first 30 seconds or so. Replacing the guilt was a profound sense of poetry. This was high drama, after all, like something straight out of a Classical Greek tragedy. I couldn't help but be impressed.


It's fitting, too. I mean, after six years of slugging it out in the newspaper business together, it's the end of the world as we both knew it. And I, for one, feel fine.

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