January 10th, 2017

Sometimes, as my laptop’s fans kick in during a particularly long build, I find myself gazing away from the screen, letting my eyes roam around my desk, losing their focus and slipping into daydreaming.

I find myself thinking about how, just twenty short years ago, one of the obviously expected cables sneaking their way into one of the oversized ports was the bulky Ethernet monstrosity. I think about how seamless and pervasive WiFi has become in my daily life, and how unremarkably smooth that transition has been. Unlike, say, a variety of clunkily unreliable wireless keyboards and mice that I’ve tried over the years. Every laptop that I’ve had in the last decade, at work and at home, always had a wonderfully ungainly cable snaking around, connected to my trusty companion, a two-button mouse. As unremarkable and as ever-present as its eponymous rodent friend.

Despite the soothingly persistent promises of all-day battery life, if I don’t plug my laptop into a nearby power outlet, it can barely plow through playing a two hour 1080p movie. Or doing about an hour of edit-compile-deploy-debug cycles. Or pretty much anything that is not browsing Craigslist. And sometimes, you have to use the right power adapter because some of them do not give you enough juice to even keep up with those long build breaks that happen every now and then. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. Or maybe both at the same time. So there’s another, slightly less ungainly cable, snaking around. They say color white elevates any hardware design. So I guess it has to be not as ungainly.

I once lost about half a day trying to configure a wireless printer to actually behave as it so boldly promised on its box. To be wireless. It’s there now, in my basement. Snaking around yet another ungainly cable into my laptop. Actually strike that. There are not even enough ports in my laptop for that. So now there’s a box that sits right next to my laptop, with Tron-esque blue LED lights for each plugged cable that indicate that yes, everything that is connected is indeed that. Connected.

If Bluetooth were running in 2016 presidential elections in US, it might prove a very formidable post-truth opponent to our president elect. This time is for real, the working group promises me every time they release a new major version of their spec. This time is for real, whispers the little ghost that calls itself the desktop variant of Linux. Wait, is this for real, whispers Leonardo Di Caprio hearing his name at 2016 Oscars. So there goes another cable sneaking into my laptop, pumping the soothing melodies of Americana folk into my ears.

I watch yet another futuristic video from yet another company that decided to spend some money on exploring the wild. Every surface is screen. Every surface is input. People are congregating around tables, playing some kind of air hockey with rectangles of data. It looks like they are having fun. At work. How rude.

And I find myself daydreaming. That I come to work and I don’t need to wave my badge to tell the system that it’s me. Because when I come back home, my kids know that it’s me. Without me typing in my 20-character long password with at least three special characters in the middle and then telling them some random piece of secret information. So random that you would probably be able to find it in five minutes or so if you knew where to look on one of the social networks.

I daydream that anything I place on my desk gets charged without me having to put it in just the right spot and then do mental gymnastics on what’s the next piece of hardware that gets to be charged to make it through the day. I daydream that I don’t have a single cable on my desk. Around my desk. Or under my desk. I daydream that if the mythical they were able to do that to the network and make it almost as reliable as the slowly dying landline phone network, they can surely do that to the rest of the things that make a computer what it is today. This time is for real, whisper the shadow apparitions from the just-concluded CES.

I daydream of watching a sci-fi movie with an iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator that doesn’t show any signal strength indicator or any battery indicator. Because those are always on and at full value. Because it gets boring after a while to see that your signal is at five bars and your battery is at 100%. Wouldn’t that be something? When something becomes so ubiquitous that you tell these stories to your kids and they roll their eyes and say, sure pops, you stood in a line for two hours just to buy ten rolls of toilet paper. But wait, I tell them, that was actually a thing. Sometimes you joined a line and waited without knowing what was on the other side. Because that’s what you do. Sure pops, they say.

And then the silence settles in. The fans are not spinning anymore. The build is done. I should probably get back to work. I gaze at the cables. They have been my people for a long time now. I have boxes of them in my basement office. I never throw away a cable. You never know when you might need one. You never know.