The confused tech-support person coaches me to grab my ISP's folder and drag it to the trash. He explains that we are going to replace the existing, malfunctioning software with new, working software.

"Now," he instructs, "empty the trash."

There's something about this instruction that awakens my instincts to danger, like a deer hearing the crack of a branch in the forest. I ask whether I will lose my address book. I wonder, too, if I might lose anything else valuable, like my years and years of purposefully stored incoming and outgoing e-mails, which is to say, pretty much my entire personal and professional history.

"No," he says.

Apprehensively, I trash the folder.

You'll recall my saying at the outset that this is a story about service. Which means that, by definition, this story is predictable. Which, in turn, means that you've probably already guessed what happens next.

Sure enough, my years and years of purposefully stored incoming and outgoing e-mails, which is to say, pretty much my entire personal and professional history, are gone. Vanished … into thin (cyber) air.

Frantically searching all over my computer for where the "filing cabinet," as it is called, might have disappeared to, I hyperventilate as I get online (courtesy of my ISP) to seek help from a technician who, not comprehending my problem, promptly does not solve my problem.

The realization comes to me in waves: Thousands of stored e-mails, detailing a decade of communication with hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues, editors (okay, so there is some good in losing everything), are lost, like paper to a house fire.

That is how I ended up out here, on the fringes of home computing. After my breathing stabilized, I had a local computer-repair shop remove my computer's hard drive, and then I carefully packaged it and mailed it off to a firm that specializes in data retrieval.