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  • Erin Cleary

The Beauty of the Backspace


The very first time I sat down in front of a computer was in middle school. We were scheduled in pairs to sit at the two new Macintosh computers at the back of the classroom while the teacher continued teaching the rest of the class. I don’t remember what the assignment was, but I do remember sitting down, feeling apprehensive about tackling the strange new box sitting before me. The grey screen stared back as I placed my hands on the keyboard. And then, meeuoop, the screen went black. I don’t know what happened. I felt too stupid to ask the other student for help, and the alternative was to interrupt the entire class to ask the teacher for help. I sat there, despair creeping in like choking ivy around my ankles and up around my neck.

My relationship with technology got little better from there. On numerous occasions, some device will not accept my password, even after twenty tries. But when my husband types it exactly the same way, it works the first time. I’ve had an iPad throw itself off a music stand because it didn’t like that I was asking it to do more than its available space could hold. It’s cracked screen is a brutal reminder of the near mental breakdown I suffered that day. (A few minutes weeping in a dark closet helped a lot.) Even Siri is not friendly to me. I’ve never received a relevant response to any question. And one time when I asked something simple and innocent, she unfairly scolded me for using inappropriate language. It’s personal---technology hates me.

A techie guy once told me that some people have a frequency in their bodies that upsets the electronic waves (or whatever) that have to do with workings of technological devices. He said it with a completely straight face, so I have no reason not to believe him. And I have my evidence.

That brings me to my new computer. After many dealings with my desktop’s unrelenting spinning-rainbow-wheel-of-death, I had to suck it up and get a new one. I ended up getting a laptop with a different operating system. It has been incredibly frustrating to figure out, but one good thing has come of it---the sound of the backspace key. It was torture trying to figure out how to use the trackpad to delete large bits of text, so I had to hit backspace to delete one letter at a time. I came to enjoy the rhythmic taptaptaptaptaptap of the backspace key. The new sound forced the slowing of my process, a chance to move backward over something I had originally wanted in my writing and evaluate whether I really wanted the change. Call it meditative un-writing---reclaiming space on the page on which to create something new---a fresh start to my thoughts, a stop-and-breathe moment in my writing that helped make it better.

I’m getting used to the new machine. The screen hasn’t blacked out on me yet, and it seems to recognize my passwords, so far. Best of all, it hasn’t sent me running off to curl up on the floor of my dark closet. I’m not sure I’ll ever come to love technology, but at least I have the beauty and breath of the backspace key.


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