For a few months now, the trusty old iMac has been regularly serving up stern messages, "START UP DISC FULL" which I at first ignored, and then tried to placate with a desultory housecleaning of applications I don't use and files that just sit there.
Which bought me time. But time passed, and the problem would return. Lately, I go to save a regular document and I couldn't because there was no memory available, which even I know is a bad sign. I asked a tech guy at work, and he sent me a diagnostic that told me, of the 290 gigabytes of memory on my computer, more than half are home movies that I digitized five years ago, when I bought the thing.
The obvious answer: buy a hard drive, slide the precious images of crawling babies and family barbecues over to it, free up space.
The tech guy advised me to avoid the Apple store. Expensive, he said, looking disgusted, suggesting a slew of brands I never heard of, "Lacie' and such. ("L-A-C-E-Y?" I asked, wanly, thinking that didn't sound like a proper name for a technology brand). I looked online, but the drives I found cost $149, and no guarantee if they were right to the task. Plus the money would go to Amazon, which is in the process of taking over the world. And I'd have to wait until they got delivered. I ended up fleeing to the Apple store, because there would be a person there. A lot of people, actually.
"We must have come on Free Day," I muttered, as we joined the scrum. My 17-year-old came with me, for moral support—I find this kind of decision stressful, worried I'll come back with a useless device. "Oh, you bought the rat? You were supposed to buy the mouse!"
That changed the dynamic enormously. Instead of being a solitary quest, one I was certain to bungle, it was now a Father-and-Son Outing. The boy, normally the most indifferent of individuals, guided me toward to the new iMacs: bigger, thinner, yet costing the same: $1800.
"Computers have cost $1800 my entire life," I told him. "I think my Kaypro cost $1800 in 1986."
"Your computer is like 10 years old," he said, gravely. "You're not supposed to keep them more than a few years." I didn't even argue.
"It's very thin," I said. "Maybe I should just buy a new one." But I noticed that $1800 just got me in the ballpark. I'd be out $2500 before I knew it. ("You'll want the thermal core memory," the clerk would say, "and that's another $199, plus the $99 we charge you for adding the charge on your bill...")
A man in blue came by, I explained my quest and he directed me to a wall of hard drives. The first drive I picked cost $499. I returned it, and after checking the backs of several boxes, found a G Drive Mobile USB which had 500 gigabytes and cost an encouraging $89.99, which seemed a bargain. Almost too low. "That's in Apple Dollars," the clerk would dryly explain. "An Apple dollar equals four regular dollars..."
I wondered aloud what the difference was between the 90 buck drive and the $500 one. Maybe because it's orange, which must jack up the price.
"It's smaller," Kent explained. "For laptops."
"Well, not an issue for us," I said, clutching the small box.
I found another guy in a blue shirt, who offered to ring my purchase up, standing there -- no cash registers anymore. I handed him the box. He looked at it and made a face.
"I'm going to swap this," he said, stepping over to the wall and putting it back, taking another. While he did, I pondered. The box hadn't been damaged, as far as I could tell. But he must have noticed something that made my drive unacceptable. What was this about?
"Twice as much memory for $10 less," he explained, handing me a different box. One terabyte of storage versus 500 gigs.
My trust in Apple is such I never even looked at the price until I was in the car. While still in the store, I was grateful and slightly confused.
"How can they even DO that?" I protested. I assume that twice as much memory means twice as much, oh heck, memory jelly, or something.
"I don't know," he said. "I just try to get you the best deal."
I left feeling buoyed, like I had gotten a bargain. Twice the memory for 10 bucks less. I went home, unwrapped a black device and plugged it into the computer. Shifting the movies from iMovie onto the drive would have been impossible based on my technical skill, but Kent, suddenly keen to help, jumped online and showed me how, though each movie takes about 10 minutes to transfer. When I'm done, I imagine my computer will be clean as a whistle and good for a while more, until I work up the courage, and scrounge the two grand, for the new, bigger, thinner, faster model.
The new hard drive is the size of a large cell phone, has a terabyte of storage, giving it more than three times the capacity of my entire computer. I tried to think about those movies actually flowing into it, but really couldn't come up with a mental image. I know that data is stored as zeros and ones, but how? What's inside there? Yes, circuits. Silicon. I squinted. I wish there were a way to conceptualize how this works, to really understand it. I worry that, someday, for most of the population, it will be a mystery, if not magic. Maybe that day is here already.