Saturday, February 21, 2004

In an ideal world, laptop computers would be completely impervious to inclement conditions. Extremes of temperature wouldn't faze them; you could leave one lying in Death Valley -- screen open -- and come back a month later to find it operating perfectly. An ideal laptop could shrug off falls from great heights and body-blows from enraged gorillas: in effect, the sort of unrelenting percussion associated with professional hockey. And it would look correspondingly tough, constructed of ergonomically contoured black Kevlar and titanium, among other military-spec materials. Imagine something like the famously rugged "black boxes" carried aboard commercial airliners, but downsized into something you could strap comfortably to your shoulder.

Alas, we don't live in an ideal world. Laptops -- even the high-end ones -- are still worryingly fragile. You can't casually knock them around as you would, say, a mountain bicycle or even a weather-proofed cordless phone. Drop a laptop onto the sidewalk and something critical is going to shatter. Inadvertently dunk one in a body of water and you might as well leave it there.

So tonight I bought a small notebook and set of wafer-thin pens that double as bookmarks. This is my backup system -- imminently portable, reasonably coffee-resistant and a hell of a lot less conspicuous. Not that I'm especially afraid of a mugger relieving me of my Gateway, but still.

In the not-unforeseeable future, of course, it's possible no one will have laptops. Or, for that matter, PDAs or cellphones. (With the exception of neophobes and the occasional eccentric who finds the clacking of plastic keys and the heft of warm silicon in his palm a reassuring anchor to brick-and-mortar reality.) We'll be packing the hardware in our skulls, wielding high-bandwidth digital telepathy as nonchalantly as a teenager scrolling through the contact list on her color-coordinated Nokia.