Have you noticed how frequently characters in films and on TV open and close their laptops? Often, if someone is working away and is interrupted by another character, however briefly, they simply close up their computer. They don’t save their work, they don’t have to deal with any prompts onscreen, they simply flip the screen closed. And within a minute or two they flip it open again and start typing or browsing. It is especially noticeable in “Modern Family”, but maybe that’s because I have watched so many episodes of it recently (as noted in this recent piece).
The experience of watching 200 episodes of the show in around five weeks has highlighted the way that laptops are used as props: opened, closed, opened, closed, opened, tap-tap-tap, closed again. It’s completely different from how I use them. Before flipping the screen down I always save my work and ask myself if I have done everything I needed to in that session. Is there anything else I will need to do in the next 20 minutes? If so, I’ll leave the laptop open. If I know that I’m going to be away from it for more than 10 minutes I might leave some audio playing, on low volume or with headphones plugged in, something like an episode of “Desert Island Discs”. This prevents the device from going into sleep mode if I take longer than planned to get back to it. At home I don’t even bother to lock my computers with a password.
In my experience, after you flip open the screen of a laptop there is at best a 30 second delay before you can start working on it, even if you don’t have to enter a password. More often you will be waiting at least two minutes before you can get on with things, the same sort of time you should leave a car engine running before you drive away. I was taught a long time ago to let the engine warm up before pulling out, but that’s another thing that characters on screen rarely do: engine on, pull out, possibly with the tyres screeching.
One of the reasons I have been noticing the fictional use of laptops is because both of the devices that I use from day to day now take up to five minutes before they are functional. I am still using a Windows 7 netbook which I have written about many times on this Blog, most recently in this piece about MiniDiscs. It celebrated its 10th birthday last month, but a week or two before that the battery stopped working. 10 hours of battery life became no life at all. I am now using it like a desktop computer: it only works when plugged in. This means that it takes at least three minutes to fire up, resuming Windows rather than picking up immediately from where I left off.
Similarly our Windows 10 Toshiba laptop, which was the main resource for home learning during much of lockdown, takes between two and five minutes to become usable. It has also, without the installation of any new software, or the addition of any extra peripherals, become distinctly unreliable. Over the last two months it has blue-screened dozens of times, for no obvious reason. I have found that it behaves better if you shut it down fully rather than flipping the screen down. Shutting down takes up to a minute, starting up the PC takes another 2-3 minutes, and you have to wait another 2-3 minutes after logging in before you can type or browse. If you tempt fate and simply flip the screen down you might be up and running within two minutes of flipping it back up again, but this seems to increase the chance of system crashes. I had a particularly unhappy Sunday afternoon last month when the laptop repeatedly froze and restarted itself. Without a full shutdown it didn’t seem capable of starting up again properly.
Maybe we’ve just been unlucky. Maybe in the real world there are laptops which you can happily flip shut, flip open again a few minutes later and which will allow you to start working immediately. I doubt it though. It looks like this is another small example of how our actual lives are not like those portrayed on TV or in the movies.