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Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Attention; or, the Troll Under the Router

     I recently saw a quote from Seinfeld, in which Jerry and one of his friends (I never watched much of the show, so forgive me that I cannot recall a single name save for Kramer and Jerry) bemoan the lowness of using one's cell phone (or, as they call it, street phone) to call and inquire on one of their friends.

     "It's the lowest move. It's like saying, 'Yeah, you're so unimportant to my life that I'm just checking in on you in whatever sliver of time I can find.'"

     Sorry if it's not exactly verbatim. But the sentiment evoked something in me. 
     I remember the day that my family got a computer. Oh how wonderful! Now I can used Lime Wire and Bear Share. Google! Oh the dirty pictures I will find with your image search. But most importantly I was now able to use America Online Instant Messenger--AIM. Or--for those damn kids who thought they were smarter than the rest of us, even though there clearly were not any periods separating those letters--Aye Eye Em.
     And you can bet my foolish self took to it like a white kid in the suburbs takes to mainstream hip hop music--or pot. I could not wait to get home so I could mutely chat with the same people I just left at school. How cool! It's like conversation without the conversation. Only now you're being recorded by some of them, and the normal social parameters of speech are being irreverently destroyed one block text at a time. And you're realizing just how fast the literacy rate has fallen in your city.
     It took me almost a week to realize that, when I would be talking to someone, they were not actually paying even the slightest amount of attention. More often than not, they were dedicating their time to someone else, or their e-mails, or this really funny website, or youtube (whenever that finally popped up).
     I was not prepared for that shock.
     "You're doing what?" I'd type to no response for ten or fifteen minutes.
     "Sorry."
     "It's oka--" "brb" would inevitably follow.
     You see, I had a pattern. Turn on the computer, check the e-mail, update what needs up dating, turn on the AIM, get to it. I answered one at a time. If someone chimed in, I asked them to call again later. Sometimes I even put up the away sign just so that no one would bother our conversation. Real thought was put into the AIM, at least on my end. It was how I learned touch typing; my analytical thinking was germinating; even my creative side of punctuation and sentence structure was begun on AIM.
     One time I recall rewriting an entire entry because I found that the syntax was too repetitive. Yes. I admit here: I revised on AIM more than any term paper in five years of college.
     I was used to that. That was how we did it in school. That was how we were raised in the late eighties and early nineties. If many people were speaking, it was on one topic in a circle. Everyone got their say, even if they had to force it--even if it wasn't wanted. When you spoke solo, there was no dipping under the table to check the stats on the Patriots.
     That was how conversation worked up until that year of the AIM. What we were soon to be doing on AIM, our past selves would have seen as rude...that's putting it nice: Jackassery.

     I've got to say: I kind of hurt the first time. 
     Jumping into the internet--and the subsequent larval social media--was in many ways a breaking of the barrier. A defiling of your innocence. A digital Hymen. You're exposed to: sex; porn; gossip; digital bullying and harassment; destroying friendships; building uncertain and new ones with strangers; learning more than you would ever want to about the human sex trade. You say stuff that no teenager should ever be caught speaking in mom and dad's house. If you're not prepared--if there is no one to tell you how it is (believe me, my father was already fifty. He had no idea what I was getting myself into, or that there could even be problems like these)--you end up in online wars, cussing out your friends, threatening the lives of others, losing sleep because someone is posting vicious live journal entries...
     You end up a troll.
     I--like most people my age--found this out the hard way. And we dealt with it in our own unique ways as we grew older; as we did, the electronic world changed with us. At seventeen a laptop was something for college, when you would be sooooooo busy that you would never be able to stop in at the family PC. A cell phone? Ha! Counting the minutes and the characters in a text? Whose dad is going to pay for that when there is a perfectly good house phone to use. Of course, a few friend got them by the end of my high school career--first in bricks, then in flips. My first one came with a camera. That was cool. I had no way of taking the photos off of the damn thing, but--who cares?--it's a digital camera!
     Yes. The times they are (and most certainly were) a' changin'. With them, we forgot a lot of things along the way.

     Next: Undivided Attention; or, Hang on I Just Need to Send This Text...uh...yep...Okay. I'm Good.

     That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table with Magic Hat's Heart of Darkness