Within the last year, I have had to do battle with several computer viruses, the most bloody of which were against the same virus on two separate computers. You see, my parents, though I love them dearly, have no patience for or knowledge about computers, and so when something goes wrong with theirs, they wait until I come home so that I can spend my entire visit cursing and swearing over the machine, hoping and praying that it will start functioning again. This last virus that they had over the summer was quite a doozy. I couldn’t do anything with it and the INCREDIBLY unhelpful people at DELL, Microsoft, and the virus protection software company provided no answers, so I was forced to restore the computer to its factory settings, after 3 days of phone tag and attempting to understand tech support from India (more on that later). Fortunately, my parents don’t use their computer a whole lot, so the only things that were lost were a few parish nurse documents that Mom had saved but also printed out, and a few pictures of me from Christmas that weren’t all that good anyway. Nothing vastly important was lost, except a portion of my sanity and humanity.
But this past September, my computer got the same virus. My computer, which was with me through all four years of college, the very eventful summer after graduation, up to the current moment, contained the following: Every paper I ever wrote in college, from the initial freshman study skills classes all the way up to my senior history thesis (all hard-won 50 pages of it) and all the lesson plans I wrote that I planned to use when I began teaching, four years of photos, including mine and my friends’ birthdays, my husband’s graduation from basic training, vacations, the last Christmas I had with my grandfather before he died, my graduation from college, our wedding, and every other awesome thing in between, and over 3000 songs. Clearly, wiping the hard drive and restoring the machine to factory settings was not an option here, since I had no back up of these items, save a few flash drives that contained my thesis and a few lesson plans.
My only option was to take my PC to a professional. I left the computer off for two months while I waited until we had saved enough money to take it to a repair shop, and I told them that the most important thing to me was to get all of the above mentioned valuables off of the computer and onto something else so that I would not lose them to some ridiculous virus. The computer store told me that, yes, they would be able to do that for me, and they would call me in a few days when it was ready.
When I got my computer back, I perused through my files, just to be sure everything was there. All my photos were on the hard drive, in the same places they were before. I was relieved about this, these were the items I was most concerned about. Those pictures were irreplaceable. I could always re-download the music, but the pictures could never be recaptured.
All my music was also still there, at least as far as I’ve been able to tell. My documents, however, did not fare so well. Most of my lesson plans, my thesis, all the papers that I wrote in college were gone. I could not find them anywhere. I called the repair shop, who had not yet cleaned off their external hard drive, and they checked what I now had on my computer against what they had on their hard drive. It was the same. Apparently, the virus ate most of my Word documents, because they were all in the same folders as the few random documents that managed to survive.
I was heartbroken. Four years of work, down the drain. Yes, it is true, as my husband so helpfully pointed out, I probably wouldn’t have used any of those things again, save the lesson plans and maybe the thesis if and when I go to grad school. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I spent four years of my life writing these papers. I put a lot of work into them, and some of them I was immensely proud of, even if I was probably never going to use them again. There was SACRIFICE in those papers. I went to a school a few hours away from my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and all my friends and family. I spent hours of my life churning out those papers, missing out on parties, time with family on vacations, late-night adventures with friends, and I paid quite a bit of money to do so.
And then, with just a few clicks of a mouse, some bastard virus-creator took all that hard work away from me. They invaded my personal, private space, and erased my accomplishments without my permission. I simply do not understand what these people get out of it. One of my friends from school experienced a similar situation with her parents’ computer, and we talked about it. What could these evil geeks with no lives get out of destroying people’s private computers? No one is going to fall for the misspellings and poor grammar that populate the fake “error warnings” telling you that the only way to rid yourself and your machine of the virus is to purchase special software from the very bastards who put the virus there in the first place, so financial gain is out as a reason. They’re not in the room with you when you’re cursing and screaming and wanting to throw the CPU out the nearest window, so sick and twisted pleasure of watching others become angry is also not a viable reason. No, the only logical reason I can come up with is that these sad, pathetic nerds are actually terrorists. They strike fear into the hearts and motherboards of unprotected citizens everywhere, in every country. They know that your most valuable family memories, your most important intellectual work, and your fabulous music library are all stored on your computer, and with just one mis-click, you unknowingly allow them into your world. They seek power over you through fear: Fear that your most precious digital possessions will be ripped from your clutches while you are perusing pictures of captioned kittehs.
For four years, I was under the protective eye of my school’s IT office, which prevented any major viruses from taking hold of students’ computers. I was lulled into a false sense of security, but no more. As soon as I got my computer back from the repair shop, my husband and I backed up everything on it by putting all of my files onto an external hard drive. My fellow internet citizens, help me combat terrorism. If you do not have your files backed up, go immediately to an electronics store and buy an external hard drive. Put all of your files on it. Everytime you add something new to your computer (vacation photos, new iTunes mp3s, your dissertation), add it to the external hard drive too. And then, help me find these tyrannical poindexters, drag them out of their moms’ basements and into the streets, where we can shoot them.