An exercise in tranquility

The darkness goes on.

A stream of early November air coyly slips into the room, unconscious of its cold effects. It swirls onto the floor and slithers around my feet, before deciding to settle in the room for good. The interior atmosphere accommodates it with a drop of a few degrees in Celsius. The oxygen and nitrogen molecules, playful and hungry for energy even at 3 am, can only get their heat from one of two sources: the table lamp or the computer. Thank God for electricity, for the power grid—for the power plants, the distribution lines, and the operators and technicians who stay awake to keep running it all.

The bulb in the lamp has always been unhappy. It has always complained of what it sees as an oppression, an affront to its existential purpose. The problem is that much of the product of its labor—photons mainly of the yellow variety—is confiscated by the lampshade by mere virtue of being positioned above the bulb itself. The bulb wants a fair share of the lamp’s output. It wants a just compensation for the fruits of its hard labor. After years of protest, however, the power relations in the lamp has remained essentially the same. The frustrated proletariat light bulb continues to work for the smug capitalist lampshade. And in this November night, the lamp flickers. Its light falls a shade darker and the bulb is dimmer than ever.

Meanwhile, the laptop’s internal cooling fan hums on the desk. In contrast to the lamp’s explicit social struggle, the computer’s conflicts are more internal, or should I say existential. For example, there’s guilt and identity crisis. A few months ago, I was still using a full desktop computer with a CRT (“fat tube”) monitor and a chunky system case on this desk. After the mechanical hard drive refused to spin and after the motherboard busted several fuses, I decided to use my laptop as my main and only workstation. It didn’t accept this decision without resistance. It has always regarded the desktop PC with great respect, and it cannot accept that the time has come for succession. It cried, “How could a laptop, who has never even properly vindicated its name by actually being used on a lap, deserve to take the place of the only machine that rightfully belongs to the desktop?” Its argument was invalid, of course. You cannot expect a machine, after all, to be so aware of the times. The laptop cannot understand that the era of real desktop computers is coming to an end, just as the era of room-sized mainframes has ended before it.

And as these appliances strive to redefine themselves and shape their own futures, the room and its gaseous guests couldn’t care less. December is coming, and with it, colder nights. The oxygen and nitrogen wanderers are bracing themselves, and they are siphoning off and begging energy wherever they can just to keep the kinetic molecules truly kinetic. They cannot bear the thought of coming to a standstill and hibernating. Yet they are aware that they are not welcome in the room forever. Sooner or later, they thank the lamp and the computer for their electrical-to-heat-energy conversion services, bid goodbye to the room, and slip out into the darkness again. They look for other insomniacs and their lamps and computers, and they are always hoping for the speedy arrival of the warm sunrise.

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