I’m always embarrassed when someone calls me up to help them with a computer problem and the first thing I suggest to them is to reboot the machine. “Did you try rebooting?” I ask. If they say no, I tell them to go ahead and restart the machine. If they say their machine is frozen, I tell them to hold the power key down x number of seconds to force the machine to shut down, and then turn it on again. Nine times out of ten, the problem goes away. I like to think they believe I’m a genius for solving their problem, but they probably just leave the conversation thoroughly unimpressed with me and more convinced than ever that computers are simply out to get them. They’re probably right on both accounts.
But rebooting works. A computer’s pipes get all gunky as the electrons flow them, accumulating lots of toxic stuff that eventually slows them down and causes them to crawl. Rebooting flushes their system, clears their head, helps get rid of the gunk so that things can flow smoothly again. Rebooting is like an enema without the mess, except it’s all-encompassing rather than focused just on the unmentionable parts. Rebooting rejuvenates a machine body and soul, or, at least, would, if a machine had a body or a soul.
I’m jealous. When can I get a reboot?
Poor saps like us human types often don’t get the ctrl-alt-delete treatment in time to save us from the blue-screen-of-death moment. We start to falter and slow to a crawl. We start looking unresponsive and tentative. Our faults and flaws become increasingly apparent, particularly to ourselves, and this causes additional wasted clock cycles. People start thinking we’re stupid. Those who try to get our attention start pressing our buttons, sometimes actually pounding on them, as if that will somehow bring us out of our funk. Our drive stumbles across bad sectors, corrupting our memory and clouding our judgement. We become unusable and useless, frustrating in our reduced-to-paperweight status. People start to mock us. Others offer advice.
“Have you rebooted him?”
“No. I … can’t.”
“He’s a human.”
“Well, then … I … I’ve got nothing for you.”
One of my favorite movies is 1993’s Groundhog Day. Bill Murray’s character, a TV weatherman named Phil Connors, is a thoroughly unhappy man whose dislike for himself and dissatisfaction with his lot prevents him from connecting meaningfully with others. He becomes disengaged, aloof, joyless. Life has beaten him down, hogged all his resources, and made him unresponsive. By some twist of fate, he is condemned to a kind of purgatory that forces him to relive the same day over and over and over again. With the keenest understanding of the human psyche I’ve seen in a film, the movie follows him as he tears himself down on way to rock bottom. Then, having let go, he surrenders to life and lets it raise him back up. He emerges a changed man, a happy man, someone who can love and be loved. His system is new again. He’s been rebooted.
But ain’t nobody got time for purgatory. The reboot catharsis must come quick.
It will take a few million years, but, if species really do evolve toward more perfect versions, our future selves will include a power button that can be held in to power us down and then pressed again to bring our systems back up, completely rejuvenated and ready to engage. For now, though, I’m really jealous of this computer I’m typing on.