Unlike most horror stories, ’twas not dark and stormy when disaster struck one mild Friday afternoon. It might as well have been, though — the magnitude of my technological catastrophe should by all rights have triggered a swirling mass of rain and hail. Instead, I was left to gape at the aftermath of my colossal mistake to a backdrop of sun and blue sky.
I’d been working on a pset with some suitemates when I decided to take a sip of water from my bottle. This was a physical operation I’d successfully completed on innumerable occasions in the past, so I had no reason to believe my body would fail me. I was wrong. As I finished quenching my thirst, my hand decided to lose its grip on reality and on my water. I watched as my nearly full bottle relieved itself of its contents; I watched, in what felt like slow motion, as my laptop’s keyboard soaked up the water.
A hush fell over the general psetting chatter — it lasted for a heartbeat — and then all witnesses leapt into action. For a moment, it was as if I were operating in the center of a medical drama. One friend shoved paper towels into my hand, another started patting at my keys with a napkin. After this initial flurry of desperate action, all external traces of water were wiped away.
“It should be fine now. It’s just water,” someone reassured me, gazing doubtfully at my screen.
Everyone returned to their positions, bent over their notebooks and tauntingly un-waterlogged devices. I attempted to do the same, but after two minutes of hesitant laptop use, during which time the trackpad gave up on life and my screen began to lag, I called it quits. IS&T it was.
I can live without a laptop for a week. I may worry about the well-being of my devices, but in this case, the crux of my catastrophe did not lie exclusively in technological woes. Rather, as I watched the stream of water assault my keys, FOMO (fear of missing out) leapt to the forefront of my mind. I had adopted the habit of working on all my psets with my suitemates in our lounge; without my laptop, however, I would forced to work in the nearest Athena clusters. Alone.
Most people have become entangled in FOMO’s cruel claws at some point in life. FOMO is that niggling anxiety that if you miss a single social gathering, even one as casual as a pset party, your friends will have developed (at best) a few new inside jokes or (at worst) an unbreakable and transformative bond that transcends space and time. All of this, of course, while you were off buying a burrito at Anna’s, or taking a bathroom break, or working at an Athena cluster while your laptop sits in IS&T.
If I could shake myself of this horrendously selfish fear, I would do so immediately. Alas, life does not allow me to pick and choose my vices. Freshman year has made me particularly vulnerable to such anxieties. I feel the need to be making best friends in these first few months, and I don’t want to be left behind.
With a dead laptop, though, I had no choice. It was Athena clusters or bust.
That first night was the hardest. Tearing myself away from the group of psetters was a belabored and painfully prolonged process. First, I had to have dinner with my friends in the suite (most of us do not have meal plans); I couldn’t deny myself basic human needs, could I? Then, of course, I had to try some of the cookies a suitemate baked — how could I not pull my weight and help clean his tray of sugary goodness?
Needless to say, by the time I made it to my dorm’s library, it was much later than it should have been. I flopped into a chair, inserted earbuds, logged in, and resigned myself to a lonely night of frustration. Initially, I had a hard time concentrating on my pset. Once the feeling of being alone had fully sunk in, though, I started to make real progress. Free of distractions, the next few hours flew by, and I sashayed out of the library with a nearly finished pset. When I returned to my suite, I was greeted by smiles and friends who, lo and behold, still remembered who I was, even after my long trek back from the Athena cluster two floors down.
Psets are made to be collaborative; I know I could not survive MIT if I tried to complete all of my psets solo. Group work is — dare I say it — fun, and it makes homework feel like less of a burden. However, in the rush of freshman friend-making and FOMO, I lost sight of an equally necessary method: working alone. Thanks to my dead laptop, I am no longer as averse to the idea of psetting away from my friends. Though it may be hard to believe at times, I will not be left behind or forgotten so easily. I will not become friendless and nameless after puzzling through problems independently. It is hard to isolate myself, but I need the time to recharge and struggle alone.
My laptop is the true MVP of this story. It died for me, yes, but my solitude was not a eulogy — it was a revival. Only its temporary death could shake me from the trance of FOMO and open my eyes to the quiet beauty of being alone.
Chloe Yang is a member of the Class of 2019.