Meghan Cox Gurdon: Mightier than the power cord

By |
Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

"Where's the computer charger?"

"You Know Who had it."

"No, it's not up there."

"How about in your office?"

"I already checked."

"Dunno then," said the girl, and wandered off.

I looked at my laptop. The battery readout was in the red. I had 9 percent power left. You can't write for long with 9 percent power. As I watched, biting my lip, the thing clicked down to 8 percent.

"Eight percent!" I yelped and closed the lid in a panic. I had an article due shortly, I hadn't started writing yet, and I was almost out of power.

Suddenly, an icy hand gripped me.

"Surprise!" said a different girl. She'd been playing in the snow.

Her hand was cold, but not as chilling as the realization that I knew the charger's whereabouts. It was in the backpack of a teenager who had left for the afternoon. I could picture the slender cable curled up amidst the books and gloves and apple cores. It was my lifeline, and it was gone.

Quick. Quick! What to do?

I could jump into my car and drive along the slippery roads to the Apple Store to buy a replacement -- yes, but with the snow and traffic that could take half an hour even before I tried to find a parking place. There would be a line, too. Public schools had dismissed early, on account of the weather, discharging a torrent of adolescents who like nothing better than hanging around in the cathedral of St. Jobs.

Think. Think!

Could I write the article on my iPhone? The thought made me wince. Even sending a short text can be a trip down the rabbit hole, given the perverse sense of humor of the spell-check function; I'd go mad trying to write at length. As if in agreement, a premonitory throb of pain ran through the base of my right thumb. No, that wouldn't work.

What about borrowing a charger from a neighbor? No, I didn't know who else used Apple, and all my contacts were on my laptop, anyway; I'd probably run out of power before I found a rescuer. Oh, this was terrible!

I was beginning to jig anxiously in place when my eye fell upon a flat, white surface. Beside it was a canister full of cylindrical objects. I felt a strange genetic tug. It was paper -- and pens!

Once upon a time, I knew, primitive man had used such tools to transfer thoughts from his head into an exterior form accessible to others. Without electricity, software or a choice of font, our forbears bent over paper and made marks upon it. I know it sounds crazy, but with 8 percent power left and the hot breath of a deadline on the back of my neck, I was ready to try anything. I would write my column by hand on paper -- so old-fashioned! -- and when it was done, with the vanishingly small amount of battery power and time left to me, I could transcribe the written word -- so quaint! -- on to the pretty glowing screen and press "send."

I set to. Scratch, scratch, scratch went the pen. Snow fell peacefully outside. Classical music drifted from the kitchen, where someone had left the radio on. Apart from my furiously scribbling left hand, everything was calm.

My fingers hurt a little, but it was nice not to be gazing at a screen. Writing with a pen is slower than having all 10 fingers typing at once, and I began to notice an interesting side-effect: Because one's thoughts have to come out sequentially, rather than in a tumult, they do. In other words, I could feel my thoughts getting in line, under this antiquated system, more efficiently than when I used the sleek labor-saving device with the apple on it.

There -- done. Now I had to get the column to my editor. I opened the laptop and, to my blank horror, saw that it was down to 3 percent power. I began to type. A little sign came on, warning that in a moment the machine would shut down.

My fingers flew. "Please, please, please," I whispered to the gods of battery life. "Please oh please oh please."

They must have heard me. For at that moment -- just 1 percent power left! -- there was a stamping at the front door and a deep voice called out: "I'm home!"

It was a knight in shining armor, but he wasn't riding a charger. He was carrying one in his backpack.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

View article comments Leave a comment