It started simply. I was visiting my daughter at college 20-some years ago and as we crossed the quad, she said, “I’ve got to check my email.” Your what? We went into the library and she settled into a carrel in front of a glowing blue screen. “Mail?” I kept saying. “How can this be mail?” Then I heard that voice for the first time. “You’ve got mail.” It was full of promise. I was hooked.
Now even though it's pathetic, I still greet the arrival of snail mail with the expectation – admittedly waning – that I might find a large check from a long-dead uncle. Or a letter from the high school boy who, fifty years ago, wooed me softly, then dumped me hard. Surely he seeks atonement in his sunset years – and I crave it.
But the USPO delivers the mail only once a day, and email delivers minute-by-minute. With the advent of Google, Read more.
I’m so much easier to find, thus multiplying my chances for a dramatic delivery. It became almost impossible not to check my in-box all day long, right up until bedtime. In fact, bedtime came later and later as the queue in the in-box grew longer and longer. The chirpy “you’ve got mail” lady became as promising as a dripping faucet and I silenced her.
Like any drug, it had its upside. I was in touch with our grown children and my siblings in a way the telephone and postal service didn’t allow. For instance, the daughter who introduced me to email during her college years was now living with her husband and two small children in Malawi, Africa, yet we were able to connect by email as if we were next door.
And there was another silver lining. I never thought of myself as a writer, yet here I was, day after day, writing. And people were asking for more, for the next installment. I had a following.
But it was my late night political ramblings to a friend who was at the time on the editorial board of the Strib that really kicked me into gear. “If you don’t submit this for publication, I’ll clean it up and do it myself,” she wrote to me late one night as we prattled on about something. I don’t recall the piece, but I did as she said. It was published and for a few years I enjoyed a flurry of recognition for my frequent op-ed pieces. But email, it turned out, was only my gateway drug.
My oldest son, as good a son as a mother could wish for, wrote me an email saying that he’d found “about a hundred Lenfesteys” on something called Facebook, had I ever heard of it? I hadn’t. But anything that requires a new password stops me short. I can’t remember the passwords I already have and I can’t remember the answers to my reminder hints, and for security reasons we’re not supposed to write them down anywhere.
But the temptation of finding 100 Lenfesteys was too much for me to resist. Never mind that like most things, less is often more. For example, one especially memorable post called “Lenfesteys shooting” was a video of three blimp-bodied boys, shooting each other with sprays of bullets from semi-automatic guns, presumably not real.
So my habit crept up on me. In the way an addict convinces herself that she’s not really like the other users, I prided myself on limiting my number of “friends” and for not posting what I was eating for dinner or how tired I was. Plus, the word limit put the kibosh on my long caffeinated rants. If I went over two sentences, no one gave me a “like.”
But Facebook provides just enough contact with the world to satisfy my need to be part of the mix. Instead of writing an email to a kid, sibling or friend, I scan FB for a post. The post usually gives me enough info to stifle the impulse to send an email. (The phone? What’s that?) And on a bonus day, there are photos of children and grandchildren, none of whom live nearby.
FB also took away my impulse to write op-eds or even blog. Because any time of day I can go to FB and find someone as pissed as I am, and saying it better and shorter.
I do know that the artificial contact I have with people through Facebook seems to have fooled my introversion-prone self into thinking it’s the real thing, that I no longer need to hear a voice or touch a face. And the limited political chit-chat on FB seems to have fooled my conscience into thinking there’s no need for writing about a world gone mad.
I’m still weighing the virtues of FB against the vices, but the balance is tipping towards the latter. Like any user, I’m powerless over my addiction, and it’s ruining my life.
It’s said that athletes who use anabolic steroids wind up with huge muscles and shriveled testicles. I wouldn’t know. But the artificial intimacy of Facebook may just leave us with a huge web of friends and shriveled souls.