For the third time in two years I've completely overhauled my computer. I reformatted the drive, reinstalled Windows, and will spend my evenings over the next week reinstalling my software. Why? Not because it's fun... simply because if nothing else in my life drives it home, my computer exists to teach me the nature of impermanence.
You would think that after all the bad luck I've had, I would've invested in a good external hard drive... you know, the speedy USB 2.0 or Firewire ones that have hundreds of gigs of space just waiting to receive all of my digital photos, mp3s, and documents. I did pick up an external storage toy on Friday, but ironically my Windows installation was so corrupt I couldn't get the damned thing to plug and play properly.
No big loss.
Around two years ago my hard drive failed... completely died to the point where it wouldn't even spin anymore... technicians told me I would have to send it off to a clean room and have the hard drive doctors open it up to see what (if anything) could be salvaged from it. I lost probably six years of work. I was just about to finish my degree, so there went the past four years of my academic life, my web development projects, documentation for a youth program I mentored, resumes, cover letters, correpsondence, e-mails, pictures of my daughter... everything gone. They wanted to charge me somewhere between $200 and $1,000 to retrieve any portion of 80 gigs of data. I decided it wasn't that important.
After that experience, I started to look at my habit of accrual. I kept everything... I probably had every non-spam e-mail I received since 1997 stored on that machine. Why? What was I saving it all for?
Since then, my habits have changed. So this time when I realized I would have to reformat because the repair tool for XP decided to do everything but its job, it didn't impact me that much. The most critical stuff I had is stored on CD. As for the rest? I just begin again.
It's actually quite nice... I have a clean machine and a speedy profile now... the computer boots up in less than a minute which hasn't happened in a very long time. Rather than worry about losing web design work, Flash files and graphics I did two years ago, I have a clean slate to work on... ready to hold whatever new, fresh ideas might spill forth.
Answering my own question, I was so devastated the first time around because I associated those bits and bytes of data with myself... those files were mine... my work product... my thoughts committed to hard drive space... But none of that stuff was really a representation of who I am, whatever this I-ness is... If anything it was a representation of who I was at some given snapshot in time.
So, I can't even be mad. I'm just starting over. It's good for me. If impermanence in this digital world becomes too intolerable, maybe I'll just switch back to Mac.