Monday, April 11, 2005

Digital domesticity

When I started using a personal computer nearly 20 years ago, I naively thought that in this "office" environment, I'd be free from domestic tasks.

Wrong! It takes a lot of housekeeping to configure systems, organize files, and delete junk. The vocabulary is different; my mother would have said she was fixing up, redding up, and cleaning out. (By the way, is our technical world freezing out these colorful phrasal verbs --- verb followed by a preposition?) And, the physical effort of housecleaning on a computer is certainly minor compared to doing a thorough spring cleaning; no moving of furniture, no scrubbing of floors on hands and knees, no bags of trash to heft and carry out.

I'm not sure the mental effort is any less. I have a good sense of physical volume, size and time. When I look at a room in disarray, I can come up with a good estimate of how long it will take to put it in order again. But when I read on my computer screen that a file is occupying so many bytes of memory, my mind goes blank. I have a hard time remembering the difference between kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes, although I have the general impression that gigabytes are very, very big.

This week, my husband and I have spent a lot of time doing digital housekeeping: reconfiguring email, setting up new accounts, checking passwords, backing up files. The big Mac is in the hospital having surgery to insert a new hard drive. Actual housecleaning wasn't on my list of things to do. But I got a nice bonus when I went to burn several CDs to back up my digital photos: the time it took to burn one CD was just right for cleaning out one shelf in the kitchen. Now I can find what I want to fix for supper and the family photo I took last Thanksgiving.


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