Monday, May 13, 2013

To Hug an Electron (My Week of Insignificance)

I had a pretty weird experience over the course of this past week. My wife went away on a much deserved vacation to Aruba. Circumstances meant that I could not go, but she went with a few of her friends.

Owing to the ridiculousness of charges for cell phone communication across the waves, we knew our interaction had to be limited. We texted once or twice, but that was about it. For the rest, I had to rely on seeing her Facebook posts.

I can only find two words to describe this experience: surreal and enlightening.

The surreal part: Watching a visual and a verbal record of the most important person in your life having a good time without you and being turned into just one of the multitude of people with whom she is sharing her experience. Very strange, when you are used to being her go-to guy.

Did I expect or want her to have a horrible time without me? Of course not. But, until this point in recent human history, time apart from one's lover and best friend amounted to phone calls that ended in: "I miss you. I love you. See you soon." The rest was up to the imagination -- I wonder what she is doing now...

In the Facebook era, "I can't wait to tell you all about it" has become "Just look at the pictures with everyone else."

Weird. And I know there was no intention on her part of doing or implying any of this. Fact is, though, that's the reality: people "share" with everyone. In this case, I became, by default, one of everyone else. For the first time in my time with my best friend, I was nothing special -- at least, not in terms of the way I interacted with her for a brief week.

The experience was, as I said, enlightening. It has no effect on my relationship with my wife, of course. I knew, even in the midst of the weirdness, that it was more an impact of a paradigm shift than a statement about anything between us. But it sheds a light on the way we are all interacting as people.

We're connected but distant in terms of more than just geography. We simply cannot share our lives in photos and texts and words and pixels. We can share ideas, for sure. That's what I do here. (It's what I do on Facebook, too. I never pretend to be digitally hugging my friends or to be "staying close" by sharing things that happen in my everyday life; I share ideas and ask questions.)  But we need to stop fooling ourselves into thinking that we remain "connected" by bouncing our profile pictures off of satellites.

If you want proof, interact, for a week, exclusively on Facebook, with someone you have spent every day of the last fifteen years with. You'll see the difference, vividly -- so vividly that your perspective on such interaction will change forever. .

I feel like we are diluting who we are, especially in terms of relationships. We're not bi-locating electronically; we're broadcasting our electrons across air and space. That's no kind of arrival. And you can't hug an electron. (Unless you are really, really stinkin' small.)

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