Jun 02 2015

Tabula Morghulis – Tabula Rasa

For two and a half years, I carried a tablet with me wherever I went. Switching from my previous device of an iPhone 4, the Nexus 7 (one number higher than the homicidal replicants) had a bigger screen and no data plan to pay for every month. I could never get a signal with AT&T anyway. Plus, it fit neatly into the breat pockets of most jackets. That, plus a cheap, “dumb” phone was all I really needed.

I set it to download news and tweets automatically, so I would always have something to read, even when I didn’t have wi-fi. I appreciate the moments of quiet, when I can access the news if I want but can’t post anything or interact with the infinite internet. People could reach me by phone in emergencies, but I got to be mostly out of touch sometimes.

When an update to the operating system came out, I forget which one, I read that there were problems with it on my model, so I didn’t upgrade, pressing “later” on the notification that popped up every day for months. Recently, the tablet started acting up anyway, freezing for no reason I could find. I thought I had waited long enough, that the latest version of the software, the much-advertised lollipop, might fix the problem. It didn’t.

After that, I figured I could probably fix things by wiping the device completely and reinstalling my apps, but this device was my companion, in my pocket every day for years. It was my mobile window to the digital world, and I had it set up just the way I liked, even though that never stopped changing. I didn’t want to lose all the little settings tweaks I’d accumulated in all that time. How could I create a back up of those things, if this was a software problem, without also capturing whatever the problem was? I figured I would have to go through each program and write down the important stuff, but I never got around to it.

I found a possible solution online, to clear the tablet’s cache partition without erasing anything else. I did that, but after that, the speakers became super quiet for some reason.

It did seem to help, for a couple days. When it started crashing again, I did a hard reset ten times a day on the poor thing, and kept going through my routine, using my headphones to hear anything.

I mostly overlooked these faults, but sometimes I would get furious at the thing for not working, want to smash it and throw it away, abandon it for some new device, but I was about to get a raise. I wanted to wait and figure out what I could afford.

Finally, one hard reset, it didn’t come back on.

I know well the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief, having followed them as the basic structure of The Brain Ingredient. I had been in denial, then anger, so of course nothing was backed up.

In the bargaining stage, I scrambled to find some way to save my data, to pull it out of the malfunctioning machine, but it’s beyond my knowledge to interact with a hard drive that won’t boot up.

After a day of that, I thought, if I could just save the device, I could reconstruct the details later, find a way to get back to the way things were. It was no good. The device was too fried even to wipe itself clean at that point.

Finally, I had to admit, my companion was dead.

For days, I walked around with no mobile internet device, on information withdrawal every time I left the house, mourning.

I’ve found stories of other Nexus 7s dying of the same problem. I don’t know for sure if it was a software problem that killed my device or some kind of hardware fatigue. Either way, it’s a brick now, a victim of a lack of support and planned obsolescence. These Nexus models, like their predecessors, were given a limited lifespan.

Tabula morghulis. All tablets must die.

I got a cheap “smart” phone, with a bigger screen than my old iPhone. It does most of what my tablet and phone used to. I was able to reconstruct plenty of pieces of my companion from around the cloud, but it took a while to get things just the way I like again, though that continues to change.

Smartphone dohaeris. This smartphone will serve.

Anyway, now I have mobile browsing again, which is strange to have after years without it. I can browse websites on the bus. I can look up facts about the topic of conversation while still at a bar. I can tweet from anywhere.

Like Tom Selleck was paid to pretend to predict in 1993, I can download a book from thousands of miles away, search for directions wherever I happen to be, and send people emails… from the beach. I just happen to be on Sprint, not AT&T anymore.