“No. Not really.”
I have this text exchange several times a day, because my housemate has a social disorder. She cannot miss out on fun, so is forever attached to e-mail, GChat, AIM, Skype, Facebook, her BlackBerry and Twitter, in order to gauge the location and intensity of fun in her social network at all times.
This is a common syndrome at Yale. Technology keeps us aware of what anyone we have ever met is doing at every moment. The age of Facebook wall “posting” is over. Now we “share” ourselves.
We “share” because we are a “community,” helping each other through the uncomfortable reality of human interaction. We affirm each other by clicking “like.” We soothe each other with Lucida Grande.
I’m into these illusions of intimacy, because they disguise the fact that online me is very different from real me. I am a much better, smarter, cooler, better-looking human being when mediated by EM waves.
I discovered this when I met my first boyfriend on MSN. Once we established that “Dude Ranch” was the most rocking Blink 182 album, we cyber-bantered with the flurry of kindred 14-year-old souls.
My mother eventually banned me from “chat-rooms” during the week. She never understood that chat-rooms were for pedophiles in 1993. She also never understood “minimizing.” A quick click at her impromptu check-ups allowed me to continue my love affair until 10 p.m. most weekday evenings.
“What are you doing, Claire?” she’d ask suspiciously, popping her head into the family computer shrine.
“School stuff.” I’d reply, by which I meant: Discovering my sexual self and finding an outlet for it in the beautifully anonymous world of online chat, Mom.
“What’s the blinking at the bottom of the screen?” my mother would ask, pointing to the flashing minimized tab.
“Software update,” I’d reply. LOLOLOL you have NO IDEA what that means, Mom.
I finally met my MSN boyfriend in person. I reapplied lip-gloss five times for the occasion, because highly reflective lips are irresistible to the budding male libido. They also conveniently distracted from the rest of my awkward teen grease face.
I spotted him at the train station where my all-girls’ high school and our brother school converged. It was a watering hole of hiked-up skirts, loosened ties and Camel Lights we didn’t inhale. Sometimes we’d try to get served in the pub. Sometimes we went to McDonald’s. Usually we loitered outside.
It was hell.
But not that day, because I was meeting Feargus, my very first boyfriend!
Feargus, in your Blink 182 sweatshirt, just like you said you would be! Your ruddy, freckled complexion! Your tousled hair! Feargus, you’re perfect. Feargus, my perfect very first boyfriend.
Feargus, my perfect boyfriend, why aren’t you making eye contact with me? Feargus … I’m waving … Why are you now in a huddle with your brofriends? Feargus, I’m standing facing your direction stretching my slippery, slippery lips into an expectant smile. FEARGUS.
My self-esteem was not robust enough to approach his brocrew and introduce myself. So after forty minutes, I just walked passed, mustered a “hi,” and departed, defeated.
I broke up with him that night on MSN.
“why??” he asked.
“cuz u ignored me for 40 minutes 2day.”
“sorry :(” he said.
Online chat is the equivalent of six Mike’s Hard Lemonades, loosening the inhibitions of awkward teens and post-teens alike. This became very apparent during the first week of spring break, which I spent in New Haven, alone.
New Haven will unhinge you a little with minimal e-mail and Facebook action, low text frequency and an empty apartment. I tried to recreate a normal social structure in my life. I went on outings. I saw “The Wrestler.” There were five other people in the audience, all alone and playing on their iPhones, missing the Criterion’s ads for itself, like the one about how it has no ads, which is amazing.
At home later, uninhibited by any human reinforcement of social norms, I regressed into my true, natural state. It involved a can of Mandarin oranges, three episodes of “Nip/Tuck,” a fort that I made and no pants. Without the possibility of my housemates entering at any moment, I became a pretty embarrassing person.
Communication technologies, I realized, are an oppressive civilizing force. They conceal our disgusting, weird selves from the ever-present social world around us. There are parts of me, I now know, that I can never “share,” because my network would not “like” it. Alas, my pantless spirit was born free, but everywhere it reapplies lip-gloss.