Strange things are happening in my home. Very strange things. Three days ago I parked in front of the desktop computer, the one I’ve largely handed over to teenaged son. But I had to do some scanning, and this was the place to do it.
I’m a Mac enthusiastic, have been since 1985 when that cute little original Macintosh 512k (with no hard drive, thank you) was handed to me by a friend moving overseas. He’d be set up with a new computer when landing in Tokyo, and I was part of a 501c3 that had a mega grant proposal to write and was very much in need of a computer. All was good.
Major flash-forward. I sit before the sleek aluminum Intel iMac sorting through forms and such when I glance up and see an odd name displayed in my Leopard finder window under Shared. It starts with “mac” and then disintegrates into a series of numbers and letters that looks like a Mac traveling undercover.
“Sharing?!” I gasped. I imagine an uninvited hacker picking files off my desktop. I reach for the phone and call Apple Care, and successfully stump tech rep number one. He hands me off to product specialist, and we spend a lovely and lengthy time together. We succeed in banishing the unwelcome mystery computer after a series of comic mishaps that had me hopping between two laptops and the desktop to see which could successfully communicate with my suddenly nonfunctioning Airport Express. Bravo, the older and semi-retired iBook G4 running Tiger came to the rescue proving that newer isn’t always better.
With a more potent password protecting my wireless connection, I retire to my private space downstairs and disappear into laptop land. For a little intriguing sidebar information, my desktop had its airport card turned off and is hardwired to the internet. Does the fact that resetting the wireless device banished the mystery machine truly make sense then? Of course not, but can’t dispute successful results. And no, the phantom computer did not show up on my laptop on the same network. It’s a mystery appropriate for Ellery Queen if he weren’t a fictional character living in pre-computer times.
Yesterday. More scanning called for. I head upstairs. Phantom computer has returned, but I don’t have it in me to chat up tech support. “Tomorrow,” I think. “Tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is today. I head upstairs to retrieve papers from my file cabinet, and when I glance at desktop, the phantom computer taunts me. It struts across my desktop, and I reach for the phone.
An hour of friendly discourse with product specialist number two. We run some fascinating tests that I email to him which allows him to conclude that I have a good son.
“You call tell that from gathering info off my system?” I ask.
“Yeah, he doesn’t use any illegal downloading programs.”
I sit up straighter in case product specialist can see my posture via that freaky device, and smile proudly at how I’m raising my teen. But my exhausted scowl returns when product specialist number two reveals that nothing in the data explains the mystery computer. I only need hear the words ‘archive and install’ once over the phone line to tremble with fear. Setting up this computer and installing all my programs and updates took about two days. I am so not reinstalling my operating system and doing that again. Product specialist places me on hold to confer with other tech gurus. I’m proud that I’m stumping the best of the best.
“Well, everyone hear agrees that your computer is just searching for other computers on the network.”
“You mean I just have a really friendly computer?” He laughs. “Hadn’t thought of it that way,” he says. I clarify that there shouldn’t actually be anyone else accessible on my closed network, and he clarifies that no one is actually gaining access to my computer. We hang up after a few more laughs but not before my new tech friend sends me a picture of a cat, “just to check that your internet is working fine.” I haven’t received this much affection from a man in a long time.
Returned to the silence of me and my desktop, I think of its personality, how sitting alone in a loft for countless hours each day and night has appeared to leave it lonely. By means none of us completely understand, it’s reaching out to find other computers. And it’s succeeding. On a closed network. In fact during the final minutes of my phone call with product specialist number two, desktop found another potential friend. I now see two mystery names under Shared, one portrayed by an ancient box-type monitor icon and the other a proud, sleek iMac variety. My computer is nondiscriminating.
If our pets can start looking like us and us like them, can the same thing happen with our technology? Isolation and reaching out…I’ll leave it to your imagination. Mine’s already going wild.