Life Unplugged

Social networking can be so isolating

I woke up with a packing peanut stuck to my head. I don’t know how it got in my bed, but I have two cats and am almost positive the packing peanut was brought by one of them. This has been happening a lot lately, and at first it was kind of nice having things brought to me in bed, but after a while it lost its luster. Among the things I have recently awakened with in my bed are a whisk broom, pot holders, tangled cords, and squirrel parts.

It’s obvious the cats consider this bed their lair, and I don’t blame them. That is exactly how I feel about it. I hardly need to leave it, what with all my social-network connections. I vaguely remember real people in my life—not just Facebook blurbs and packing peanuts and all this tangled wire, but actual people who required proper care and handling. But so much time has elapsed since I last saw them that bringing them up to date on my life would take the rest of my life, probably. I can’t fit that in when I’m spending so much time socializing. All this socializing is mostly done from the seclusion of my lair, but still. I am really popular.

“Woke up with a packing peanut stuck to my head,” I finally decided to post after careful positioning of all the cords. Why are the cords always tangled? No matter how neatly I drape them after every use, they’ll still emerge like an old wad of fishing line from a tackle box. Phone cord, computer cord, headset cord, camera cord, printer cord . . . enough cords to choke all my friends on Facebook. In the time it took me to disentangle the cords, I could have walked to East Atlanta and mooched a cup of coffee from my friend Polly.

But of course I don’t, because looking into the actual face of an old friend might prompt all sundry of confessions I’m not sure I’m ready to realize myself. Like how sometimes I’m relieved my parents are dead already and saved from seeing how the world has devolved into such a giant wad of wasted potential. Oops. That just slipped out. I didn’t mean that. I meant to say something quippy yet thought-provoking in under 140 characters, but not in all caps. Because writing in all caps means you’re angry or excited, and God forbid you be either of those anymore. Once a Facebook friend told me my words literally offended his eyes. Not his mind. His eyes.

When I think about that, I start to get angry, but not excited. With all this proliferation of communication, you would think there’d be a proliferation of expression as well, but the opposite has happened. You just see the same pasteurized acronyms and phrasings over and over again, and if yours is different people literally clutch their eyes.

I have more friends than ever now, only instead of seeing them I poke them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and generally feel up to date on their lives. To do more than that might endanger their states of mind, because lately I can really suck the fun out of the room. I would write about it, but I don’t know how to fit it into 140 characters. Even the title of “writer” has been oddly pasteurized. We’re now “content providers.” Newspapers don’t even develop their own stories anymore; they simply strap a saddle on whatever’s popular in the blogosphere, where the only expression seems to be the same 140 characters proffered over and over again in a frenetic dash to capture the lowest mass denominator. Creatively, this feels like kryptonite.

“Need proper care and handling,” I post and then delete. Who knows what the hell that will attract. So instead I throw my oldest cat into my car and head for the mountains outside metro Atlanta, where the cords can’t reach me and the signals are weak. On the way to Blue Ridge I pass a barbecue joint that sells fried pies, and right away I start wondering what that is. Do they fry it in a pan? I wonder. The whole pie? I stop at a scenic point by a trailer park and look at the trees with leaves like little tornados of gold and auburn. The grass is still green and the sky is still blue and it’s all pooling together like a giant parfait of breathtaking shades. It’s so beautiful I reach out like an idiot, like I want to break off a piece to take with me. The whole thing makes me excited. It makes me angry. It makes me want to express myself in all caps. “I AM NOT SHOUTING,” I write. “THIS IS MY NORMAL VOICE.”

Illustration by Peter Arkle