I am sitting at a picnic table outside of a Whole Foods market, my most recent writing haunt thanks to their customer appreciation week and 25 cent coffee until the early part of November. I sort of work but mostly listen to the two elderly gentlemen beside me.
I don’t make out much until I hear something about “we’ll have to see about this current generation” and something else about “cell phones” and “email” and “connection.” I hear one say that all of this technology is supposed to increase productivity. That the experts and society say this is supposed to help people do more. He acknowledges the benefits that technology provides in terms of establishing connection, but wonders how much more productive anyone is when they’re so busy following other peoples’ lives on Facebook. The man across from him says something about 135 friends. How can anyone really have 135 friends? I steal a glance and I’m amused by his plaid shorts, agile socks and tennis shoes. I see that the man, this man, has finished eating his pastries, folded his paper plate into thirds and stuck it between the slats of the table. I think about technology and creativity.
I pull my hands from the keys, close my eyes, sink my forehead into my fingers, and take deep breaths. I hear cars beeping “lock” and “unlock” from the parking lot, keys swinging outside a purse, a truck going down Ashby and someone sweeping crumbs and leaves from the pavement. I remember the outside world and I’m afraid by how quickly I forget it. How quickly I am consumed in the messages and links and articles and photos that flash across this tiny little screen, this silver two-pound window through which I enter each morning and exit each night.
Sometimes the exiting is difficult. Sometimes I don’t want to shut the screen. Don’t want to see my life disappear into nothing. I wonder if this is because the Internet is exciting or because my life in the physical world is not. I wonder about addiction and saturation, if I can tell when I’ve been gone for too long. Last night I worked late, not shutting down my screens until a quarter past midnight (which goes against principles I’ve been trying to enact). I lay in my bed until 12:30, 1:00, 1:30, 1:45, still thinking about the window, still worried about my life. My other life. The one I live online, where I am a writer and a voice, a meme, an avatar, a “like,” a comment. I worried about my work. I worried about myself.
This morning I checked my email before leaving for the gym. I felt the burden of stress on my shoulders before I even left the house. I didn’t mean to look for messages. I didn’t mean to jump in so quickly. But there was the chance that the news might be good. There was a chance that it would be “yes, we’ll take it,” “you’re invited to come help us celebrate,” “congratulations, Amanda.” There was even a chance (an oh-so-tiny chance) that the message would say what I was hoping it would.
I look back at the men sitting at the table beside me. They get up and shuffle toward the waste bins, recycling their napkins plates, even the one that was stuck in the table. I want to ask them what it’s like to live in the physical world, what it was like before everything changed, back when everyone carried a life that was solid and real.
I’m not sure why, but I don’t. I don’t ask them any of these things. I watch them walk away, probably never to see them again. I turn back to my laptop and jump through the window.