Diet Coke and Apples Don't Mix


The following e-post uses Dr. Jason Ohler’s (2010) seven areas of inquiry in order to investigate the ways in which laptop computers connect and disconnect us from ourselves and the world around us.


To me, a laptop computer is like a car.  I don’t need to know how it works – just show me how to turn it on, teach me the basics, and let me go.  But this week Dr. Ohler’s assignment to assess a piece of technology just happened to coincide with the near drowning of my MacBook Pro by the contents of a loosely capped Diet Coke bottle.  Although I could access the Internet on most anyone’s computer, my data was just on mine (note to self: backup).  Suddenly, I was very aware of how little I knew about laptop computers.  Applying Ohler’s (2010) systematic exploratory approach brought some unsettling revelations.

Where does a laptop computer come from?  A Google search reveals all kinds of interesting information.  MIT’s Sourcemap(Leo, 2012) identifies a thick spider’s web of locations all contributing to the contents for my laptop. Wafer fabrication in the United States gets its minerals (platinum, vanadium, manganese, rhodium, gold and chromium) from South Africa, then the U.S. ships the wafers to the Philippines for chip assembly who then sends its chips to China where the laptops are assembled.  And that’s just one strand of a very thick web.

I was surprised to find that there are websites that tell you how to build your own Apple computer, or perhaps more aptly called, your own “Hackintosh”. Lifehacker (Pash, 2010) reduces the task to 8 easy steps.  The process is even legal since there is no actual “hacking” thanks to the use of Darwin, an open-source software released by Apple (Apple, 2000).  But while the self-satisfaction itch may be scratched by such an accomplishment, the assembly is really just the last step of a process that required global cooperation to provide the materials, labor, and skill.  This computer, that is such an integral part of my life, could only come to me as a result of the work of thousands of people.  And yet it makes me feel so independent.

How does a laptop computer reduce and extend me? (Dimitri, 2008) identifies the following characteristics.  A computer…
  • Accelerates logical sequential calculations to speed of light.
  • Erodes or bypasses mechanical processes and human logic in all sequential operations.
  • Highlights 'numbers is all' philosophy, and reduces numbering to body count by touch.  
  • Flips into the simultaneous from the sequential; accentuates acoustic over visual space to produce pattern recognition.
In a much less esoteric description, I experience the acceleration described by Deoxy as an extension of my sense of touch.  My fingers compose on the keyboard, erase my mistakes, cut and paste my edits, point through the cursor, flip through my files, and throw away my trash.  Computers free me from the responsibility of memory, the hand cramps of script, the editorial scan for spelling and grammatical errors, and the calculating of countless columns of numbers.  However, with lack of use, those skills, once so necessary for me as a human for clarity of thought and communication are lost to me and subsumed by a computer.  And yet I feel so empowered.
What did it replace, and what does it imply?  The New York Times (Wilson, Orellana & Meek, 2010) plots a graphic history of classroom technology that locates the personal computer towards the end of a trail that includes the school slate and chalkboard of 1890, the pencil of 1900, the film strip projector of 1925, the mimeograph of 1940, liquid paper of 1960, handheld calculator of 1972, among other technological innovations.  While we regard these previous technologies with nostalgia, they represent an accelerating desire to visualize, create, calculate, edit, publish, and share ideas.  Emerging technologies forecast the demise of current technologies.  As far back as 1925 when Thomas Edison patented the film strip projector, he predicted, “Books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed by the eye” (Wilson, et al, 2010).  The timeline completely skips over my beloved laptop computer and concludes with the iPad proposing Edison’s projection again, “Is it the end of the textbook?”  New technologies imply deficiencies in old technologies, but there is always something sacrificed in order to embrace the change.  And yet I am unaware of any loss.

What are the social expectations that produced my desire to have it?  I went all the way through college and graduate school without my own computer.  We had a computer lab of IBM Personal Computers and a dot matrix printer, eventually graduating to a laser printer.  I was required to type my papers in the computer lab, but I still composed by longhand on spiral notebooks from a stack of notecards.  By 1993 when I got my first job in the entertainment  industry personal computers were in just approximately 20% of US households ("Computer and internet," 2009), but as a freelancer, a personal computer had become a necessary tool of the trade.  And even though I had spent my entire higher educational career on IBM; and even though my freelancer salary really only accommodated a reasonably priced IBM; and even though I was only using the computer to do basic word-processing and spreadsheet applications which were the bread and butter of IBM, I bought an Apple Powerbook 170 anyway.  There was no debate.  When I opened that box, angels sang.  MacIntosh had already successfully ensconced itself in the creative industries and everyone I knew and respected worked on a Mac.  Although I shared the same computer as hundreds of thousands of fellow Mac users, I felt like an iconoclast.

Who gets favored and who gets left out?  In William Wresch’s (1996) book Disconnected, Haves and Have Nots in the Information Age, he charges, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”  After spending a year teaching at the University of Nambia, he was personally and professionally challenged with the widening gulf between those information rich and those information poor.  Just as a hammer is no good to a man with no nails, no land and no lumber, a laptop is no good to a man with no electricity, no software and no internet access.  Issues of illiteracy, tyranny, and inequality serve to restrict those who could benefit most from access to the information highway.  It’s hard to consider the world around me globally connected when statistics prove otherwise.  In 2000, for every 1000 people in the United States, 668 were internet users, 668 in Japan, and 764 in Sweden.  But the same count of 1000 people in Rwanda, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, turns up 6, 3, and 2 respectively (Wresch, 2009).  And yet my computer makes me feel like a global citizen. 

What are the benefits of a laptop computer?  What drives its creation and adoption?  It’s fast.  One of its greatest benefits is speed.  Speed of expression.  Speed of correction.  Speed of calculation.  Speed of substitution.  Speed of production.  Speed of communication.  The speed opens up all kinds of possibilities making me more productive, more creative, more connected, more accurate.  It travels.  I am no longer chained to my desk.  I’m free.  I can work on the beach, from my car, in a café.  It’s green.  I no longer need as much paper, carbon paper, microfiche, liquid paper or storage space, or as many notebooks, pens, pencils, staples, brads, paperclips, post-its, books, bookshelves, or filing cabinets.  What previously filled a whole office can now be reduced down to a single metal “book”, modem and printer.  And yet I still feel buried by my stuff and my responsibilities.

How does the technology impact us?
  Now that I can produce more, expectations have adjusted to require more leaving me with less time and more anxiety.  And now that my production base travels, I can never get away from it.  Research has now identified a new form of employee stress called “digital depression” or “the feeling of being overwhelmed and overworked by technology” (Johnson & Indvik, 2004).  The pressure to multi-task, to always stay connected, to respond quickly to an increasing tide of communication, and to keep up with a competitive stream of new technologies drives employees into various stages of burnout (Digital Depression, 2003) .  Ironically, once high-performing individuals become disengaged and make more mistakes as a result of the overuse of technology. 
And as for being green, paper waste has been replaced with e-waste.  Although sites like Cash for exist to encourage the recycling of old computers, “Some 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of ewaste are generated worldwide every year, comprising more than 5% of all municipal solid waste. When the millions of computers purchased around the world every year (183 million in 2004) become obsolete they leave behind lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous wastes. In the US alone, some 14 to 20 million PCs are thrown out every year. In the EU the volume of ewaste is expected to increase by 3 to 5 per cent a year. Developing countries are expected to triple their output of ewaste by 2010 ("Legislative toolkit: Ewaste,").  And yet, despite the negative impact on the environment and on the individual, I still choose to embrace the technology.


We rarely think about the consequences of technological progress.  When Henry Ford made the car accessible to the average man, would we have so readily embraced it if we knew it would become the number one cause of death for our teenagers ("Injury prevention & control," 2010)?  When microwave ovens were first introduced would we have hesitated before so readily adopting its convenience, if we realized it would obsolesce the need for the family dinner (Ohler, 2010, pg. 110)?  Would I have still bought my first laptop computer despite how powerful it made me, if had realized how increasingly vulnerable it would make me and my planet?  Yes.  The seduction of technology is too great, because in the end it really does make us better.  But at least now I can move forward with a bit of humility for the power of technology’s amplification of both inspiration and destruction, gratitude to the vast network of people and processes upon which I depend, and a strategy for compensating for the loss of humanity technology insinuates without my intentional efforts to curb it.  I think I’ll start with a little Carbonite.


Apple releases darwin 1.0 open source. (2000, April 5). Apple Press Info, Retrieved from

Cash for laptops.

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Dimitri. (2008, September 7). Mcluhan/lawsofmedia. Deoxy, Retrieved from

Injury prevention & control: Motor vehicle safety. (2010, October 18). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from 

Johnson, P. R., & Indvik, J. (2004). Digital depression, stress, and burnout: Same song, different verse. Allied Academies International Conference.Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict.Proceedings, 9(1), 19-24. Retrieved from

Legislative toolkit: Ewaste facts and figures. Electronics Take Back Coalition. Retrieved from

Leo. (2012, January 30). Laptop computer. Sourcemap: Where Things Come From, Retrieved from

Ohler, J. (2010). Digital community digial citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Pash, A. (2010, October 25). How to build a hackintosh mac and install os x in eight easy steps. Lifehacker, Retrieved from 

U.S. Census Bureau, (2009). Computer and internet use. Retrieved from website:

Wilson, C., Orellana, M., & Meek, M. (2010, September 15). The learning machines. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Wresch, W. (1996). Disconnected: haves and have-nots in the information age. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Wresch W. (2009). Progress on the Global Digital Divide: An ethical perspective based on Amartya Sen’s Capabilities Model. Oshkosh: College of Business. Retrieved 6 November 2009 from