The best computer is one you hate a little

The best computer is one you hate a little

After a decade of MacBook hell, I entered the awkward and unwieldy world of Windows and love every second of it.

I got my first MacBook in 2009. It was big and silver and one of the first things I did with it was spend an entire Tuesday afternoon in my dorm room trying to record a cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” on GarageBand by sampling the sound of my hands slapping the computer’s metal body and replicating professional-quality keyboards using plug-ins with names like “Techno-Party Keyboards.” I do not and did not possess any degree of musical skill, but through sheer force of will and also reading a bunch of tutorials on forums, I managed to create something that, if only a little, resembled Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.”

Why did I, a college sophomore who was likely skipping my Naval History class, decide to cover “Love Lockdown” on GarageBand? Well, I had just gotten the MacBook, and it had come preinstalled with GarageBand. “Love Lockdown” is like three notes plus drum sounds plus AutoTune, and I was dropping that history major anyway, so why the hell not, really. You climb Mount Everest because it is there.

The next day, once the high of my own hubris had worn off, I realized that I had made the worst song in the history of music and that if I showed it to anyone they would immediately stop being my friend. Today, it lives somewhere in the cloud, a Sword of Damocles floating over my head just waiting for someone to hack my shit. I would delete it forever if I could, but in MacWorld, syncing to the cloud is so effortless that I’ve never actually bothered figuring out how to enter the cloud and poke around the archive of my digital past. It’s there somewhere, probably, but finding it would take more effort than living with the latent dread of exposure and ridicule.

I bought my next MacBook in 2011, when the screen on that first one started glitching. I transferred all of my files over using an external hard drive, the “Love Lockdown” cover along with it. That routine would soon become familiar as each newer, sleeker, more convenient laptop would completely shit the bed within two and a half years. They’d start getting hot, alarmingly so, cooking the hair on my upper legs whenever I worked on the couch with such regularity that I think I accidentally invented dirtbag laser-hair removal.

Whenever I wanted to do normal computer stuff, like have 75 tabs open in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox while simultaneously downloading a bunch of mixtapes off of malware-ridden hip-hop sites and also instant messaging with my coworkers, the MacBooks would not acquiesce to my wishes but instead do that thing where the little spinny rainbow wheel shows up to mock you with each cheerful revolution. The battery life would diminish from hours to maybe 45 minutes, the hard drive would fill up on account of all the mixtapes and the malware, and my MacBook would beg for the sweet release of planned obsolescence. Then, I’d knock a dent into my savings account, drop a couple thousand bucks on the cheapest MacBook I could afford, transfer all my files (including, yes, my digital albatross, that cover of “Love Lockdown”), and begin the odious dance with the computer devil anew. But the price of MacBooks kept going up, and Apple kept making them shittier.

And if you’re Apple, why wouldn’t you make your computers worse? Everyone has them! They’re compatible with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple Music, Apple TV, iCloud, the Mac monitors with the special plug thingies, plus they’ve got different buttons on the keyboard so now typing on a regular Windows keyboard is kind of awkward. Also, the dongle. The further you proceed into Mac World, the harder it becomes to leave. But the fact that it’s a hell of your own making doesn’t make it any less hot.

By far, the worst thing about having a computer is using one, and the worst thing about using a computer is that it makes doing things really efficient. When you’ve got a task, whether it’s sending an email or editing a video or conducting research or doing your taxes, the convenience of using a Mac, with its intuitive processes and little ecosystem that fits together just so, makes doing the task very easy. So easy, in fact, that you just might end up getting distracted by all of the other things that a Mac can do — like, say, making a terrible song in GarageBand, or endlessly scrolling through TweetDeck looking for something to get mad at — that you end up not doing the thing you were supposed to be doing at all. The MacBook comes with everything you need and a whole lot of stuff you don’t, and it’s all so easy to use that you probably won’t be able to tell the difference.

Instead, your laptop should kind of suck. You should hate it just enough to feel compelled to get whatever it is you have to do on it over and done with so that you don’t have to be on it more than a fucking nanosecond longer than you have to, and then slam it closed in triumph. (Also, your laptop should be durable.)

Windows, the operating system so stupid that you will always know you are partaking in an unnatural act.

After a decade of living in Mac World, I was done. I knew there was another place for me out there, Windows World, where the keyboard is laid out slightly differently and you can open the computer up without the aid of a special screwdriver. A world that, even if it wasn’t actually better, was definitely way cheaper. And so, on Cyber Weekend, I decided to enter it.

The first thing you discover upon switching to Windows World is that the number of options is overwhelming. There are like 15 different brands that all seem to make Chromebooks, Ultrabooks, business laptops, gaming laptops, two-in-ones — most of which boast inscrutable names made up of technical-sounding combinations of letters and numbers (The Dell XP11! The Lenovo L580! The Acer Aspire 1 A114-32-C1YA!), or names that would only appeal to a twelve-year-old boy (The Razer Blade! The HP Omen! THE ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS THERE IS NO ASUS ONLY ZUUL.) And unlike MacBooks, the prices of which start at “pretty expensive” and don’t stop until they reach “sell an organ, maybe?”, each model of Windows laptop, depending on the features, can range wildly in terms of price point.

A base-model Lenovo ThinkPad E585, for example, starts at just under $400, but if you add in all the bells and all the whistles — a faster processor, a terabyte of storage plus a second solid state drive just in case, more RAM, and a suite of fancy software — it ends up being $1,634.72. A decade of MacBooks has conditioned me to expect to pay at least $1,000 for a basic laptop that will come with everything I need, work for a year and a half, then spend several months succumbing to heat-death. Is the $400 ThinkPad E585 a standard computer that can do the same, or do I have to upgrade to the mediocrity I so desperately crave? Computers are a mystery, so there is no way to know.

After two days of having a deeply discounted Razer Blade Stealth V2 in a shopping cart — I honestly don’t know why I picked this one, other than it seemed like it might be fun to own something called a Razer Blade — the computer sold out before I could decide whether I wanted the thing. So instead, I went to Lenovo’s website, spent seven hours comparing all the different models and then, at 11:45 p.m. on Cyber Monday, blindly bought the one that had the steepest discount. It was called the Lenovo ThinkPad L380 Yoga, and it was 40 percent off. I am typing on it now, and let me be the first to tell you that it is good as hell.

Lenovo, as far as I understand, is French for “The Novo.” Novo, of course, is French for “computer.” Don’t worry if you’re a native French speaker and don’t recognize the term; this is some pretty technical computer geek stuff.

My Lenovo computer is called a Yoga because it bends all the way backwards to become a tablet, which is something I both have absolutely no need for and am completely enamored with. Importantly, it does the main thing I need a computer (novo) to do, which is go on the internet and have a billion tabs open while typing in Google Docs. But more importantly, it also does a bunch of shit I never knew I wanted a computer to do, like invert the screen whenever I turn it upside down, lets me enter text by writing on the screen with the little pen that pops out of the side, play with a 3D model in Microsoft Paint, or take a free-hand screengrab of the 3D model I had just been playing with in Microsoft Paint.

Will I ever use these features? No. But each time I find one I become infatuated with it for like five minutes before ultimately concluding that it’s either part of some program I will never be able to understand or something that actually makes whatever I’m trying to do more unwieldy. This process of exploration and then rejection is much more conducive to remembering you have something to actually do on your computer than realizing that GarageBand lets you make an entire song in six hours and then attempting to do so.

My Lenovo doesn’t even come with a Windows-y version of GarageBand. GarageBand is and always has been a marketing scheme to convince you to buy a Mac. The implicit pitch is basically, “People can create music on Macs because they come with GarageBand and other creative and cool software that will help you create cool things; therefore, creative people buy Macs. You’re creative and cool, aren’t you? Or are you an uncreative, non-Mac-having-ass loser?”

The thing is, though, being on your computer all of the time makes you a loser. It strains your eyes. Your neck will cramp until your body reprograms your once-perfect posture into a loser-y slouch. If you use a computer to go online, you subject yourself to countless advertisements, trackers that allow corporations to know you better than you know yourself, typed-out conversations with people you have never met and could very well be legitimately insane. Over time, these things add up to a subtle manipulation of your perception of reality, and it is very unhealthy. So switch to Windows, the operating system so stupid that you will always know you are partaking in an unnatural act.

I have no doubt that at this very moment, someone, somewhere is using GarageBand. But that person is not you. You are reading an article on a website, which is a thing you can do on any type of computer. You know what Microsoft computers do come pre-loaded with, however? Solitaire. Five different kinds of Solitaire, all of which are exciting enough to distract you for ten minutes, but boring enough to make you remember you have actual stuff to do and that you should probably go ahead and get it over with.

Windows World is defined by this counterintuitive sense of efficiency — every little friction or inconvenience makes using a Windows computer just slightly more awkward than using a Mac is a reminder that computers are not your friend. A good computer should not be so user-friendly that it tricks you into believing that its world, full of passive consumption and active surveillance, is the same as the real one. Instead, it should be just annoying enough and full of weird novelties to remind you that a computer is just a tool that you use to do stuff. You should hate your computer a little bit. That way, you’re always ready to stop using it and get on with your life.