It's true, we live in a time of holistic masturbation. The entire self is now a glowing bastion of self-indulgence and amorality and we stroke ourselves on a nearly constant basis for the world to see. Everything goes, it seems, there are no boundaries to taste or modesty. I feel hypocritical writing this, since I'm partially DOING THAT VERY THING! But, I get easily bored at work and feel like a diatribe. Call the hypocrisy police on me if you wish, IF YOU CAN FIND ME!!!! MWAHAHAAHAHAHAH!!!!!! (Side Note: If you recognize your own hypocrisy and identify it as such, is it really hypocrisy? Probably. Dammit...)
A friend once told me that they have a 'public self' they portray on the 'Net for networking and business purposes and a private one that is only seen by those close to them. This makes total sense, but it also raises the fact that this public persona is completely in the author's control. No one gets to see you screw up or lose your temper, so everyone comes across as this utterly magnificent person who is super-awesome. No one gets to see the warts. Now, if you're a fairly conscientious and self-aware human being (and I'd say the friend who told me about it is, so if they're reading this: you know who you are, don't get mad; this is not a diss on you!), this isn't a problem as you'll be able to know the difference. But, alarmingly, I've observed a LOT of people who have taken their online persona and brought it into their real lives, flaunting an unearned smugness because they have more than 200 followers on Twitter, or because they write a bunch of blogs, or because they pwn noobs in WoW. It's brought an entire segment of the population out of its shell, but what good is being able to come out of the glow of your computer lit basement based on confidence imparted through the Internet, if you have no social graces?
Lord knows I've had enough female friends tell me horror stories of men they meet off the 'Net who can talk the talk on a dating site, but when it comes time to meet face to face, they have the charm of an ornery moray eel...
So what's to be done about it? Plug sites like Art of Manliness? Remind people to read their Miss Manners and Martha Stewart posts? Bollocks to that noise! I'm not going to resort to the Internet to help fix the problems it causes.
My advice? Treat strangers in person the way you'd treat your grandparents or nephews/neices, but without the ageism. Think about it. With that point of view, you don't have to put on airs, but you'll show respect, or at least kindness. And remember: NO ONE is out to get you, stiop being so damn defensive! Stop trying to show how cool and hiply aloof you are. And don't get angry if you're not sure how to act, just wing it as best as possible. Better to try and fail than automatically fail by not trying.
So, in that vein, I'm writing about the oddity that is the human exchange.
July 26 2010
Logged off and unplugged. I slammed the laptop lid shut a little too hard, with a sick little twinge of delight at the thought of the whole machine splintering into fragements beneath my hands, finally freeing me of this crazy digitized shadow of a world. But, the twinge passes and I remember the hundreds of dollars poured into this cursed machine and the necessity of it. So, I soften my movements, and gently let the lid close. I stand up relieved, and look out my window to a brilliant summer's day.
My bike's calling my name and there are dozens of kilometres of trails and paths awaiting me.
Two hours later and I'm wreathed in sweat and drunk on endorphins. But I'm also exhausted. I need a little rest before chugging that last 5 k home. There's a small park on the way where groups of children play soccer with parents sitting on the sidelines, encouraging their little ones to get the ball towards the net. Scoring a goal is about 3 years down the line. Not that these people seem to mind.
I figure this is as good a place to sit, drink some water, and catch my breath. I park myself on the grass, some 6 feet away from a mom in her 30s. She's radiating a genial energy and I feel myself drawn to speaking to her.
"Which one's yours?" I ask.
She turns to me with a puzzled expression.
Dammit, from that look, it's obvious, she's asking herself why a single man, obviously not a parent, is relaxing in front of a group of small children. You can almost hear her brain screaming PEDOPHILE!
But I've been fighting the Age of Paranoia my whole life and won't let the fear stop me from being friendly.
"Oh, just making conversation. My nephew plays soccer, but he's eight, so he knows what he's doing a little better."
She smiles and responds. Somehow mentioning Christian (my nephew) always eases tensions.
"Well, I don't really care if Ben ever gets good at it, I'm just glad he can do this and get away from that damn Gameboy."
"They do have that effect on the little ones, eh? My neice is 12 and it's like she can't look up anymore, what with texting, browsing, etc., etc."
"You have to wonder if Bill Gates knew what he was unleashing 15 years ago..."
"Oh man, who knows? I ask myself if half of us would even have jobs if he hadn't..."
"You work in computers?"
"Yeah, Help Desk for Health Canada. It sucks to have a job you hate but be very good at it."
"I completely understand."
"Well, I gotta finish my ride. I hope your boy scores a goal!"
She smiles sheepishly.
"Thanks! Have a good ride."
We lock eyes for a brief moment and there's no attraction or romantic twinge that is summoned, but rather a shared sense of "what kind of a world are we part of where this sort of exchange is exceptional?"
And chances are we will never see each other again, except maybe on a dating site or facebook.