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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, December 17, 2022

entry arrow4:23 PM | Technology Paralysis

The trip was one for the books for me. It was going to be my first extensive trip out of Dumaguete since the pandemic started, and immediately it felt ambitious: there was a first leg consisting of a Cebu stay, and there was a second leg consisting of a Manila sojourn. At the start of 2020, while news of the pandemic was still mostly scattered whisperings and cautious headlines about goings-on in China we knew almost nothing about, we were in Manila for a friend’s wedding in January and stayed for a few days to visit friends and to go around taking in the capital before 2020 rolled along. I had no idea it would be my last significant trip before finding myself homebound for three years straight.

And then to suddenly end 2022—three years later—with a Cebu/Manila trip?

The idea felt surreal even while I was purchasing my boat and plane tickets and making accommodation arrangements—things I no longer quite knew how to do. The anxiety was real. And only because of that mental state did I choose to push through with the trip, because I knew it was a mental obstacle I had to confront sooner or later. I needed to see for myself that travel was finally okay, that I was all right, that I could deal with these things once more, like relearning how to ride a bike.

It was a necessary trip to take, and something that was in my alley in my work as a creative writer. The Cebu trip was for attendance at the latest iteration of the Cebu Literary Festival, its first live edition after a long pandemic absence, and where I was supposed to panel a talk on literary publishing. The Manila trip was to be present at the Palanca Awards, where I had won a prize, with that awards body’s major comeback, also after a long pandemic absence. Both felt necessary—and I knew I had to leave the relative comforts of Dumaguete to be in both.

But this essay is not about those trips. The preceding section is mere backdrop for the little drama I found myself in the day I arrived in Cebu. I had taken the midnight ferry trip from Dumaguete, which I preferred over the land trip or plane options. [I like going to sleep rocked by the sea, to wake up to Cebu City in the full morning light.] My friend Hendri Go, founder of Cebu LitFest, fetched me at the pier, and took me for breakfast at home before taking me to my hotel, and then to Ayala where the festival was being held. I left Dumaguete mindful of things I had yet to scratch off my to-do list. I had a column to prepare, and three articles to write to round off my ongoing series on Dumaguete art. I had to do my weekly social media posts for City Tourism, and prepare for an upcoming book launch. I had to write a script for a Christmas program. And most importantly, I had to finish and send an important application [with all its attendant requirements] to a grant-giving body. In my mind, I saw myself doing all these things on my free time while I was in Cebu. I saw myself sitting in my usual spot at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Ayala, doing all of these things.

True enough, while waiting for my panel at the literary fest to happen, I found my spot in the coffee shop and got ready for the work ahead. I opened my MacBook Air, circa 2017 [a Christmas gift from my brother Rey]…

And it wouldn’t turn on.

Maybe I ran out of battery from the long boat trip, I thought.

I hurriedly plugged it in. And the red indicator light of my charger wouldn’t appear.

I pressed the power button for a long time, hoping for a miracle reboot.

Nothing happened.

I did not panic, but I felt an immense sadness come over me.

True, my laptop, which I named Ava [as in Ava Gardner], was already five years old. This was the average lifespan of most MacBooks when they start showing their age for real. This is especially true for laptops of heavy users like me. I knew there was no satisfying alterative for me: ever since I was introduced to the Mac, I’d been trapped in iOS, knowing full well that I could never go back to Windows ever again. Ava was my third MacBook, after my first, which I named Marilyn [as in Marilyn Monroe], and my second, Bette [as in Bette Davis].

My laptop is essentially a full extension of my existence. Because I write constantly, I am never far away from my laptop. Because I love movies and peak television like a completist freak, I am always on my laptop to catch up with being a cineaste. I go to sleep with YouTube on [it’s my necessary nocturnal sound to guarantee I sleep]. And when I wake up, it gives me my waking music via Spotify. People find me in my usual spots around Dumaguete always in front of my laptop, doing one thing or other.

These things are also true: in early 2018, I accidentally poured coffee on Ava, which was barely two months old. It survived that ordeal and worked just fine—except that I could no longer use my jacked-in headphones with it. [I turned to Bluetooth-powered headphones instead.] And then, around the beginning of 2022, Ava’s keys started dying one by one. First, the E. Then the S. Then the A. Then the Q and the Z, and so on and so forth. When the spacebar would not work, I started worrying for real—and bought myself a Bluetooth-powered keyboard to get around the inconvenience. I consulted a reputable third-party laptop repair shop, and the guy promised thorough repair for six thousand pesos.

“How long will the laptop be in the shop?” I asked.

He answered: “Give or take a week.”

It was the idea of not having a laptop for seven days that made me balk. I never went for the repair, opting to endure the inconveniences as much as I could. So when the return key no longer worked, I knew my laptop was on its last legs. My biggest apprehension was waking up one day to find the power key no longer working. Around this time, the battery was also dying. A full charge lasted no more than 30 minutes, and I found myself plugging on the computer continually while I worked.

It was also during this time when I somehow slowed down in my writing. It just was no longer joyful trying to write on a computer that was not cooperating fully. In retrospect, it did affect my writing process considerably—a sad, belated realization. I simply stopped writing.

So, when I opened Ava in that Cebu coffee shop at the beginning of my trip and she wouldn’t turn on, I sighed. This was it, I thought. And it wasn’t like I had the funds to just go to the nearest iStore in Ayala and buy myself a new unit. I spied a customer coming into the coffee shop with a white iStore shopping bag—and I felt suddenly envious.

I did not panic, but I worried: I fretted about the work that I couldn’t do. And most of all, I fretted about the files I could lose. Here’s a confession: even when Ava was tottering on her last functional legs, I somehow did not backup my files, even though I had an external hard drive just for that purpose at my disposal, plus the options of syncing important files into my Box account, or even iCloud. Don’t ask me why. I myself have no idea.

What could I possibly lose? All my work files, and above all, all my un-backed-up current writings. A COVID memoir I was finishing for a major university publisher. A short story collection I’d been working on for more than ten years—or at least the two newest stories I was hoping to add to it. A literary history of Negros Oriental. An autobiography using cinema as a lens.

I spent the rest of my Cebu trip sans a working laptop. And then the urgency hit: I had to send in an application for a grant, and the deadline was approaching fast! The application consisted of a compilation that required extensive use of a word processor and a PDF editor—things I could easily do with a laptop. But when there’s a will, there’s a way. I went back to my hotel early on my second night in Cebu—and endeavored to finish that application using the powers of my iPhone. What would have taken me two hours to finish ended up taking seven hours! But at least I was able to do it, somehow. I slept at 5 AM in my hotel room—tired but feeling proud that I was able to send the application in against all odds, using whatever apps I could find online through my iPhone.

In my Manila hotel, I’d try to turn on Ava once in a while, hoping for a miracle—to no avail. I came home to Dumaguete a full week later without a working computer, behind on my work and obligations, but happy that my iPhone proved to be a savior. At least it had my plane tickets on it! And I had access to my Gmail! And I navigated my trip mostly with the apps I suddenly found myself relying on! This is a huge deal for me, a long-time cellphone agnostic. I had never found use for my old cellphone for years and years, to the point that people knew never to call or text me. I finally lost that ancient phone during a documentary shoot early this year, and it took me a few months to be convinced to get myself a new iPhone. I reluctantly did so—but in retrospect, I was glad I did that! I would not have survived my latest ordeal without that new phone.

I bought a new MacBook Air soon after—and no regrets. I knew I had to make this purchase even though I could barely afford this. I told myself this was not a luxury buy, but a necessity buy. Mahaaaaal kaayo, but the obverse is not being able to function and fulfill my obligations. Gi-credit card na lang nako, because obligations and opportunities simply don’t wait. So now I am writing this essay on the new laptop—and I must admit, I love the ease of churning out words on this unproblematic keyboard.

The whole ordeal of course made me realize how deeply connected my life was [and is] to laptop-technology, which is not ideal. But most of us are prisoners to our tools.

And now, I’m going to take this fact of having a new laptop, which I have named Constance [as in Constance Bennett], as incentive to restart with a clean slate. To paraphrase my dear friend, the Dumaguete artist Kristoffer Ardeña, when he had to restart his life in Bacolod a few years ago after an unworthy exile from Dumaguete: “I’m going to work my ass off with my art,” and with this new device.

So there. Hello, Constance.

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