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The Home Office Worker's Tale

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I sat down to work a couple weeks ago, ready to tick off the first in a long to-do list of items stretching through the week to come. It was a Sunday, but I had a lot to do, so I resolutely turned on my computer, opened a document, and -- watched as the screen went blue. It was a serene hue, just slightly darker than a robin's egg, but the feeling in my gut as white code zipped across it was nothing like serenity.

I run my own business. I have a computer repair place I trust, but no on-call IT staff, and it was a Sunday, after all. From what I could tell, this was a spectacular crash. An hour of frantic booting and rebooting, phone calls and "system restore," and I had to face the truth:

My computer was one with the angels.

I didn't waste a lot of time wondering what to do next. I'm a writer, after all, and my computer ranks right on top of my "can't live without" list. I marched off to J&R and bought myself a new one. I was back at my home office, setting it up, within hours.

But as anyone who's ever replaced a computer knows, here's where the real headaches begin.

Are you kidding me?

The computer I settled on, once I had ruled out Macs as too risky (it wasn't at all clear that my existing PC-created documents and emails would translate), was a Lenovo. I chose a slightly sexier model than I probably needed (but then again, who doesn't need a screen that swivels like Linda Blair's head in The Exorcist)? I brought it home, powered it up, entered my wireless password and Voila! -- nothing. Although the little icon assured me that I was connected (full strength!) to my home office network, this paradoxical phrase also appeared: "no internet access." I checked the settings. I turned my computer on and off. I rebooted the modem. I called the cable company. Nothing. I called Lenovo.

After the inevitable 16 centuries on hold, my call was answered by a woman who walked me through doing all the things I'd already done. Then she announced she'd have to escalate the problem to someone in software. Another several lifetimes on hold and I found myself speaking to a woman in India, who instructed me to: Check my settings.Turn my computer on and off. Reboot the modem. Finally, she said something along these lines, "It looks like you have a software problem and the standard warranty only covers hardware. I can transfer you to someone who can help with this, but you'll have to pay."

Mind you, the computer box and packing materials were still on the floor next to me. I'm willing to bet the engine of my car was still warm. It was one of the rare moments in my life when I was, quite literally, speechless. My husband, who had popped his head in to see how things were going, was not. The words he chose, sailing from across the room in New York City, but confirmed to have been heard in India, were not terribly creative, but did fit the bill. I recovered my voice and chimed in.

"I bought this computer today, brand new. Are you saying it's not your problem that it doesn't connect to the internet?"

What finally worked, of course, was politely but firmly asking to speak to a manager. Shortly after, the phone changed hands once more and some man--maybe her manager, who knows?--walked me through fixing the problem.

Of course, I had everything backed-up

You'd be utterly nuts to run a document-dependent business like mine and not have a reliable back-up system in place. For years, I've relied on Carbonite, one of those cloud back-up programs that runs in the background, snatching up (and encrypting) everything on my hard drive on a pretty much constant basis. Nonetheless, even in these days of digital miracles far beyond the comprehension of my humanities-oriented brain, it's no fast or easy thing to recover over four years of digital content. There were glitches. Mismatches with Lenovo's settings and built-in programs. Clashes with my firewall. It took hours on the phone with a total of four patient and kind tech support guys to get the download started, and it wasn't completed for another six days.

My machine, my amour

Most days, my relationship to my computer is like a bad marriage. I take for granted that it will daily accomplish feats that would have been unimaginable less than 20 years ago. Only when something interrupts its smooth operation do I notice it, and then I waste no time in criticizing and even -- yes, I'll admit it -- hurling verbal abuse.

But, as came to pass with Henry Higgins and Liza Doolittle, it turns out that all the while I've been undervaluing or worse, yelling at my computer, a relationship has been growing. To paraphrase Higgins, I've grown accustomed to its face. Turning on a new computer, sleek and sexy though it may be, is like starting a whole new relationship. Suddenly I notice all I left behind. I'm embarrassed to admit how much time I've spent over the course of the last week-and-change, tinkering with settings to get my email to look exactly like it used to, down to the font and the size of the preview pane. I've taken time away from priority projects (time I know I'll just have to put in later), to add my favorite icons to the Word toolbar. I've lovingly visited my regular haunts on the web, to bring their familiar, reassuring URLs back to my bookmarks bar.

Slowly, my new computer starts to feel like my old one (only lighter and faster). Here are all my precious documents, safe and sound. Here are the emails, stretching deep into the past, that I can summon with a few strokes in the search bar. Once again, my favorite webpages are greeting me by name, and my desktop is already beginning to look cluttered.

Why have I told you all this? Because I blog about work, and for some of us, work sometimes comes down to this. In the annals of loss, travails and healing, my tale is not a significant one. But it will be familiar to anyone who, like me, is daily dependent on a technology that they barely understand.

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Robin Hardman is a writer and work-life expert who works with companies to put together the best possible "great place to work" competition entries and creates compelling, easy-to-read benefits, HR, diversity and general-topic employee communications. Check out her website for more information and to sign up to follow her award-winning blog.

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