The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting. – Dave Barry
My compulsive personality is a double-edged hatchet that is impossible to conceal. My ever-present caprice always seems to catch the bright glare of fads and new crazes. Fortunately, middle age, lack of stamina and a shrinking attention span have hobbled my propensity to chase popular culture like a dog behind a mail truck. I have left the pressure of keeping pace with social phenomena to the young and un-medicated.
Every now and then, a highly viral fad infects my judgment and I become a slave to a new master. In the last few years, the corrupting siren has been technology with her buxom applications and seductive promises of increased productivity, diversion and global access. I am hardly a techie but I am a fast follower with a highly addictive brain that becomes almost bi-polar with a new toy. To my spouse’s chagrin, I will disappear like an addict, staying up until all hours gorging on my fascination du jour until I literally become physically ill with its consumption.
It is bad enough when she is forced to physically disconnect the computer from our children who lack the maturity to know their boundaries. It is quite another thing to lose your partner to the same malady. In her mind, technology has turned our home into a veritable den of iniquity with video games serving as gateway drugs to more potent preoccupations such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, instant messaging and blogging. The computer, she has decided, is one massive crack pipe.
I started with Web surfing and moved quickly to Amazon and EBay. These Internet applications are the cigarettes and malt liquor of cyber-life. They are not very good for you but it would take years of daily abuse before these portals could bring you to your knees. At my most abusive point of EBay use I was a two purchase a day user. It began with innocent acquisitions like baseball cards and nostalgic talismans from my childhood but moved on to useless flotsam like maritime clocks, antique jars filled with air from the 1870s and a Halloween mask of Bart Simpson. I hit bottom when I mistakenly bid on an item that I had posted for sale two months earlier.
My passion for military history took me off the Internet and on to PC gaming. I became a WWII armored division tank commander in Panzer General and a combat avatar in Battlefield 1942 and Call of Duty (COD). I graduated from the PC battles to Xbox 360 sports games and literally spent one winter disabled in my leather chair playing Madden Football until my fingers would cramp from the incessant tapping of the X, Y and Z keys.
Along came Halo and COD 4. They were higher end, designer narcotics combining historical gaming and the Internet. They are the opiates of video games. COD Modern Warfare has actually infiltrated our town at every level. I have it on good authority that a certain local celebrity routinely roams the fractured buildings and broken roads of Mogadishu searching for insurgents, doing his best to help make the world a better place. I am pleased he is out there, helping my son and others get out of tough firefights with all our virtual limbs in tact. Yet, on the anniversary of my being killed for the 1,000th time on a virtual battlefield, I drifted back to the Internet – aimlessly following blogs, EBay auctions and The Onion. My fascination shifted to social networking.
As I approached my 30-year high school reunion last summer, I was urged to join Facebook (FB). I joined, posting the best, non-air brushed photo I had of myself in an attempt to torment any girl that ever said “no” to me to go on a date. I dove headlong into serial posting and irreverent commentary. Each day I would dredge up some old shoe from the muddied gray waters of the Class of ‘79.
FB gave me a chance to reconnoiter ahead of the reunion and to reconnect faces and names, safely determining who had completely lost their marbles and who had stayed reasonably normal. Life had thrown a few high hard ones to some folks and FB became their confessional and catharsis. I avoided anyone who made entries to FB between 1am and 6am. Social networking is like automobile driving. The police allege that as many as 70% of the drivers on the road after 1am are under the influence of a mind altering substance. My reconnaissance proved invaluable at the California reunion as I successfully dodged someone on parole, two ex-girlfriends in the middle of strained marriages and one shady character interested in raising money for a hedge fund (hold that thought, Jim, I am just going to get a diet coke – – back in Connecticut)
My spouse sees the Facebook messages flying across our screen and is bemused. More private than me, she views FB as the equivalent of running my underwear up some narcissistic flagpole every day and waiting to see who notices. The web is like the atom – a scary unharnessed power that could easily become a WMD if placed in the wrong hands. It is a neighborhood prowled by out-of-control teens, pedophiles and lonely hearts. Social networking is something one might find in hell — a veritable 24/7 virtual den of paparazzi where exhibitionists, garrulous wall flowers and curious voyeurs can safely post and be posted. I pooh-poohed her conservative concerns and regularly checked my postings and blog site for comments from old friends and faceless strangers.
I was surprised one day to get a FB invite from the actress Elizabeth Shue. There was a part of my brain that wanted to embrace Ms. Shue’s invitation to be ” friends” as validation for my rapid virtual social climbing. I had my own blog. I was a regular on FB. I had affiliated with other groups such as Linked In, Propeller and EBlog. It was apropos that a celebrity would want to network with me. Yet social networking, like nostalgia, is a deceptive liar and you soon feel with so many friends, contacts and followers that you are ready to start your own religious denomination. You start looking for cheap land in Texas. Perhaps Elizabeth Shue would be my spokesperson.
I then got another invitation from a 28-year-old girl in Richmond whom I had never met. Her photograph was, how shall I say, a tad risqué. My immediate reaction was that she must be the daughter of a friend, and as a parent, I wanted to ask him why his daughter was sending invitations to come visit her on Tart Island. I surveyed her “friends” looking for a familiar face and it became very clear that she was only interested in meeting men – men between 40 and 80. The pathetic roster of friends was a dubious yearbook of every delusional, mid-life crisis male between Santa Barbara to Stamford. I was expecting to see Tiger Woods. There was not a single woman. The invitation cooed, “Hi handsome. I wanted to connect with you and be friends.”
As I scrolled the men who had consented to befriend this flattering FB figurine, I saw a friend of mine from California. I immediately pinged him and asked him what he was doing consorting with what was most likely a Russian prostitute born when we were in our junior year in high school. He pinged me back almost immediately and sheepishly confessed, “She seemed vaguely familiar.” Yes, men are pigs.
And along came Twitter. Twitter allows you to post in 140 letters or less a daily message to those who choose to follow your “ tweets”. I cannot even use the restroom in less than 140 letters. Twitter is all about brevity and sound bites. Perhaps Twitter will cure my verbal incontinence. However, most tweets are inane mental droppings from celebrities and narcissists. Rapper Ray J wants to know: ”what’s love got to do with it?” Um, ok. What does intellect got to do with it either? Miley Cyrus: “Party in the USA -I need expresso.” Good for you, Miley. You almost spelled espresso correctly.
Social networking has created a new fifth dimension to interact and merchandise anything – a product, an idea or one’s self. However, it is a slate gray 24-hour landscape where interaction is mistaken for intimacy. As this sterile, achromatic vegetation spreads across our lives, perhaps it is time to turn off the computer, take a walk, say hello to Charlie and Karen next door, write a letter on my stationary and actually mail it. Perhaps I will go meet a real friend in town for a hot cup of Zumbach’s exotic coffee.
Perhaps my next twitter should read, “ Gone to Z’s for a cup of Joe. Must recapture my mo-jo. Say goodbye, cruel cyberspace, I’m off to join the human race. “
18 letters to spare. Not bad.