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Volume 19 Issue 37 | January 26 - February 1, 2007

The Penny Post

The modern Achilles’ heel

By Andrei Codrescu

People’s vulnerabilities change throughout history. With Achilles it was his heel. For us, it’s the laptop. And not even the laptop, but the tiny memory chip inside. Our weak spot is no longer in our body, but in an accessory. People have always carried their valuables in a bag, the loss of which was devastating. But never had we a bag so capacious, so total, and so revealing as our laptop, and never had a bag so easily detachable a core. In there is our memory, our links to the world, the history of our relationships, and the official record of our lives. Even our feelings, to the extent that they can be articulated, are in the chip that lives in the laptop. The only thing not in the chip is the meat, but even that may be only apparent. For now, though, the theft of the chip is nearly as fatal a blow as a whack from a halberd. The ancestor of the laptop was the paper notebook, but its loss, while devastating, was not quite fatal. I lost two notebooks in my life and I convalesced for a year for the first one, and for six months for the second. After losing the first at 16

I thought I’d never write again. After the second, I thought that I might but that I’d be a monk, tied to my desk in the scriptorium. I forgot the notebooks when I emptied myself into the laptop. The only difference between Achilles and myself is that his vulnerability was his alone, while mine is everybody’s. What I mean is that if somebody attacks my chip I can attack theirs. No one is exempt from this Achilles’ heel. The greatest dread of our secret agencies and research labs is the theft of laptops. When computers were big they were harder to steal. Now even a cockroach, if properly trained, can drag a super-secret chip from a carelessly placed laptop. In fact, a cockroach may be a chip itself, a nanobot thief. In order to secure our chips we’ll have no choice, in the end, but to imbed them in our bodies. The preferred insertion points so far are the neck and the wrist, but for reasons of mythic beauty I’d suggest the heel. With the chip there, our whole body becomes a laptop, returning to the godlike condition of Achilles. This return to original vulnerability may not abolish history, as one might be tempted to think, but it may prove that time itself did not pass. Achilles’ heel may have had a chip in it in the first place, and that hero, like all heroes, was a laptop.

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