The Ghost In The Machine, Or Do Our Computers Have Souls?

It helped me write two novels and plan vacations. With it, I reached out to others with funny e-mails and condolence letters. It stayed by my side, a faithful and uncomplaining colleague, twelve hours a day, for five years.

Oh, sure, I made jokes. Towards the end, as it got slower and more finicky, I described my laptop as ‘steam powered.’ I began flirting with younger, sleeker models at the Apple store, all while saying, “It’s not personal. It’s business.”

Imagine my guilt one day last November when I brought home a shiny new MacBook. I practically apologized to my old computer as I stripped it of files to give to the replacement. Even today, my antique sits in a place of honor on my shelf. I can’t bear to send it away.

Anybody else give their electronic device a personality? You’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, August 28, has a thought-provoking article, “Sweet Talking Your Computer,” about how we give them personalities—and become attached to them over time.

Of course, this isn’t really a new concept. Sailors flattered their ships by referring to them as “she,” investing them with soul, rather than considering them inanimate vessels hammered and lashed together. Our cars provide another example. How many of us cajole faltering cars, begging them for one last start as we are late for work or an appointment? And what married man hasn’t kept his wife from throwing out a favorite sweatshirt?

My mother drove a 1967 blue Impala station wagon, an ugly rolling barn she named Betsy. It was a love-hate relationship between the two. When my father brought it home from the dealership, she sat on the sofa and cried.

Funny thing is, she did the same thing when he traded it in five years later.