Vanished Into Thin Air

By Steven Levy
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When something is thin enough to fit into an envelope, light enough to sit on your lap for a couple of hours without discomfort and so compact that it doesn't even bulge in an airline seat-back pocket, wouldn't it make sense that one could lose track of such a thing? Even if it is a computer?

Yes. Believe me. Because I can't find my MacBook Air.

Can you really blame a guy for losing something that's called Air? True, Apple's new super-slim laptop isn't transparent, and while its dimensions are anorexic (a profile of 0.76 inches to 0.16 inches), we're not talking about a dust mote. It weighs three pounds: impressive for a computer, but nowhere near nonexistence. But my MacBook Air (more accurately, the review unit that Apple lent me) might as well not exist. Just another expensive miniature marvel of technology vanished into thin, um, air.

Let's walk back the cat (as the spies say) to try to solve this puzzle. Wednesday morning. I thought I would take the Air to work with me. I was fairly confident of its location -- an area of my apartment that includes a couch, coffee table and end table. This was also where I leave the computer's power supply, plugged into the extension cord by the sofa. The power cord was indeed in place. But a quick scan did not reveal the presence of the laptop.

So I began a more thorough search. Looking for a MacBook Air, even in a New York City apartment, can be grueling. Unlike the often-misplaced cell phone, you can't call to locate it by ring. You have to examine the bookshelves. You have to look under furniture. You have to scan through manila folders -- because the Air is barely thicker than the papers inserted in those folders. Basically, you have to tear the whole place apart. Which I did. All I came up with was $6.80 in change and some credit card bills for which I have been already dunned late fees. But no MacBook Air.

My next step was figuring out whether the laptop could have been lost, or stolen, at another location. I'd last seen it the previous Friday afternoon. I had shown the Air to another guest on the "Charlie Rose" show. I went to the studio, did the segment, grabbed my backpack and left. (Rose, who was in the studio the whole time, is not a suspect.)

I'm pretty sure, but not 100 percent, that I didn't take the computer out of the house again after getting home that evening. Similar vagueness, I suspect, will lead to a lot of desperate Air searches over the next few years. The MacBook Air will not be the primary computer for many of its owners; lots of people need more storage than the maximum 80 gigabytes it provides. For those users, it will be a unit designated mainly for travel.

If my Air was stolen, I don't expect to see it again. The people at Apple (one of them couldn't stop laughing) do say that if the thief tries to repair it, Apple would identify the unit by its serial number. (By the way, Newsweek is going to pony up the $1,800 for the loss.) Fortunately, because I never bothered to wirelessly move all my data to the laptop, my personal exposure is limited. As a precaution, I did change my Gmail password and de-authorized my iTunes account. Thus the thief, if there was a thief, cannot watch the two copy-protected episodes of "The Closer" I had downloaded.

So what happened? I have a theory that I first viewed as remote, but now believe explains the fate of my Air. The coffee table where the Air sat becomes the final resting place for the bulky New York Times and other old papers and magazines. My wife, whose clutter tolerance is well below my own, sometimes will swoop in and hastily gather the pulp in a huge stack, going down the hall and dumping the pile into a plastic recycling bin. Sometimes the mess gets so nasty that I even perform this task myself. Could it be that somewhere in the stack was a Macintosh computer? I believe so. (For the record, my wife does not subscribe to this theory.)

It's still possible the gizmo may have been stolen or jammed into an obscure crevice in my apartment. For now, though, my review unit lays claim to being the first MacBook Air to be discarded by mistake. But, I will wager, not the last.

Steven Levy, a senior editor at Newsweek, can be reached

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