Within a few days we will be moving home, despite the best efforts of two firms of solicitors to obstruct and frustrate our intentions. The new place is more compact than the present one, which means that a fair amount of stuff has been jettisoned from our lives. Far from being an unwanted consequence, this has been a deliberate objective motivated by, among other things, a desire to free ourselves from the tyranny of our possessions, along with some of our assumptions concerning life's priorities. So, rather than choose a place which will accommodate our present situation, we are moving to one which, by virtue of its smaller scale, obliges us to progress towards the new life-style we have been planning: we are rolling the dice once more before hanging the "Dun Trying" sign on our door.
During this process my laptop died, after a protracted yet undiagnosed illness, and I found myself questioning a couple of other things. Like, how did it come to acquire sentient attributes? Surely machines don't die? They break, conk-out, blow-up or simply stop working. Was it possible I had become so attached to it that I had begun to think of it as a pet or a human companion? (It did have a rather attractive dark-red case.) Perhaps I sought to justify all that time we spent together by imagining that it had an interesting personality. And why did I call it a laptop, anyway? I never willingly, or comfortably, perched it on my lap. But that's what we call them. Manufacturers have tried over the years to persuade us that they are notebook computers but, as with mobiles, aka cell-phones, the popular name prevails, pointing up our evocative use of language - a preference for describing objects in terms of what they mean to us rather than in stark terms of their functionality.
But if our laptops and our mobiles are said to have died when their circuits cease to hum, should there not be some bereavement at their passing? Maybe some of us do indulge in a moment or two of ritual mourning - a shrug of the shoulders, a tilt of the head, a brief downturn of the mouth - but it is surely and rapidly overtaken by excited anticipation of the replacement model which is always more powerful, more attractive and more desirable. We are not such fools as to mourn the demise of inanimate objects, but when it comes to their burial we really ought to take things seriously. In my experience it's not so easy to find a willing undertaker for a dead laptop - despite my recent and intimate engagement with the re-cycling infrastructure: charity shops, friends, relatives, ebay, Gumtree and the local council - and we all know by now that you mustn't chuck them into landfill or send them off to poor countries where they will be burned to extract the precious metals at the expense of poisoning the lungs of the salvage workers and releasing unwanted emissions into the atmosphere. After all, we want to save the planet don't we?
Well, yes but here again our use of language distorts the picture: Planet Earth isn’t asking to be saved. And it doesn't care if human beings are here or not. It has survived cataclysmic and catastrophic changes over millions of years, over which time it has been estimated that 99% of all species have come and gone. What we really mean when we speak of saving the planet is saving our environment. Pedantic it may seem, but if more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, we would probably see increased motivation and commitment actually to do so. And if solicitors saw their clients’ interests as their own.....