Technophilia: Getting Personal With Your Computer
Personal Computers. PC’s. The terminology itself emotes something a bit special; instead of using a computer like a “home” tool, the terminology implies it is like a partner or a friend. Instead of an indifferent mechanical tool we get a Personal Computer. Beyond the very simple romantic notion I presented above, nowadays the accepted definition of Personal Computer by the majority is a computer that is merely used by a person. A very sterile definition and one I wholeheartedly disagree with. Just because you use a computer does not make it a personal computer, just a very complex tool.
Recently I got to thinking about a question my girlfriend asked me a few moons ago when I was doing a build for one of my friends: “Why do you help people choose their computers?” I told her I enjoy doing it, it provides me with some inspiration and practice and in a way it hones my own buying and researching skill. I have never been one to turn down giving advice or helping others to choose parts for a computer; I just revel in pretending to spend someone else’s money, kind of like a stock broker on the GEP: the Gamer Experience Index. It’s like investing a bit of myself into someone’s gaming life. Now retrospectively I thought more about it: was I helping them to make their computer personal?
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Making your PC personal is about knowing what you put into it is more than just the cash value. It’s the personal aspect of researching all the parts you need to make your computer more than the sum of its parts; an effort that ensures that you maybe learn something about the hardware that gives you the gaming pleasure. Possibly using a build guide is a platform on which to do this: it’s the personal journey of researching a part in a build guide to develop your own pros and cons about it; it’s about seeing price and quality differences between certain brands; knowing the retailers who offer the best service and price. The joys of building your computer comes from the amalgamation of all the Google searches, forum lurking, build guides, reviews, friendly advice and pricing into one achievement: A Personal Computer that you can truly call your own, that you built by your own virtual and real “sweat of your brow”.
I know this line of thinking seems to contradict in spirit the build guides I’ve written about. I hate it when, for example, in diagnosing or advising people on tech related upgrades they don’t know what CPU or motherboard they have running in their PC. My initial reaction to them is “Build your own fucking computer!” I then take a swig of whiskey and calm down. The fact is build guides are not rules but, you guessed it, guidelines! They are to be used as platforms from which you can learn about PC hardware and gauge what type of gaming experience it can potentially lead to. I’m always trying to offer a balance of both opinion and factual reasoning when I suggest a part in the build guides I post, the point being that it’s a process that is a wholly subjective experience for the potential buyer I’m talking to and for myself as a PC builder. Build guides I post are the best attempt at a personal computer I can come up with, not necessarily the best you can come up with. For example: I source the parts and prices mainly from one online store I’ve come to trust for their prices and service. If you can only get what I suggested from a store that you’ve dealt with and had a negative experience with them, you’ll more likely avoid dealing with them. The experience of shopping for parts will differ from mine and might ultimately lead you to different component’s, which is fine in itself; it’s all part of putting some of that “personal” filling in your PC pie. The shopping and researching add to the experience and forms a crucial part of understanding hardware in South Africa and eventually developing the “personal” in your PC. I know this all can’t be done in one sitting, but just learning one thing is one thing you did not know. Learning about hardware and learning about buying hardware is a process towards making your PC more personal and understanding what is actually inside the box as something you chose, with reasons informing your choice, while not simply ticking off a checklist on a build guide.
I’m not against build guides at all; obviously as I have published three of them in the past. What I hope is that build guides don’t make readers passive receivers of information and directives relating to PC hardware as only a gaming end. The phrase “I dont care what’s in it as long as it plays X” is an extreme example of this attitude. Sure, when I started out on my PC gaming journey I was content with the computer I had with my limited hardware knowledge. Ignorance is bliss. When the Silicon Gods sought to test my Faith with BSOD’s I persevered and asked for hardware advice on forums and received mountains of it that I took straight to heart. More importantly I learnt more about my PC as a result and came to “understand” it a bit more. As a result of the good nature shown to me by others started spilling over and I started to give advice as I read a about general PC stuff and became a Silicon worshiping convert. Extended religious metaphor aside I came to learn about stuff like PSU wattage ratings, Memory Diagnostics, TIM application, voltages, overclocking, cooling, fan speeds and fan pressure etc. Essentially stuff that will help with hardware regardless of which generation of CPU or GPU we’re in.
Thinking about the build I did for a friend I realised that the personal computer concept for me is a very different one than the one my friend holds. For them the goal is attaining the conventional Personal Computer; as merely a means to their gaming end. For me that is a very ImPersonal gaming Computer. So then I ask: What is the “personal” in your computer? If you have someone else building your computer for you, then what have you actually put into it besides the cash? They are missing out on a very rewarding subjective experience that is researching and building up your own PC. There is something beautiful that happens between the feelings of accomplishment and terror after you start up a computer you built from scratch…and it does not boot. Figuring out why the PC does not start is definitely frustrating, but beautiful nonetheless. I know it all sounds very esoteric but the most I’ve learnt about computers has been spent figuring out why they are not working. Besides this diagnosis scenario, taking the time to understand, research and decide on parts for your computer is how you engender a sense of ownership of your PC, building a computer you can truly call your own as it has a history starting with you and no one else. When we say someone is a close personal friend what we are really saying is we share a history together that has developed through our experiences with that person.
Why should it be any different towards one of our most faithful gaming companions?
Ultimately your computer becomes a Personal Computer when you invest yourself in it, not merely your cash. I won’t say understanding PC technology is an easy venture but when are things that are worth having easy to come by?
That’s the kicker people, I hope that the build guides I offer are not builds to follow but hopefully they ignite a spark of actually doing it for yourself by beginning the process of learning the ins-and-outs of current hardware available and aligning yourself to a fulfilling computer hardware culture. One final thing I want to share that I came across while researching for my dissertation: In PC gaming we sometimes get so caught up in virtual aspect of gaming that we often “forget” and put aside the material traces, aka, the hardware, that is required to allow us that pleasure. So hopefully my build guides don’t just make you gloss over hardware choices, but actually implore you to dig deeper into what makes your gaming PC tick.