Sunday, August 03, 2008

Dearly beloved

In our fast paced lives I think we’ve (some of us) lost a sense of community. We reclaim it for special occasions. Birth, graduation, marriage, and yes, death come to mind. We gather at these times each seeking a moment of connection. For a brief moment we feel in touch with something greater than our lives. Maybe we really feel a connection with something-outside- our selves.

Technology surrounds us. It gives us instantaneous abilities and gratification. We are less than five seconds from any spot in the world but I will suggest that (perhaps) we are more disconnected than at any other time in history. We take it for granted that we can reach out and be right there. I can pick up a cell phone and make a phone call. I can hear a friendly voice. I can e-mail. I can take a digital picture of my world as it is this very second and send it to a friend. If I need a cup of coffee I can make instant or I can jump in a vehicle and buzz through a drive-thru with a piece of plastic that moves money in remote banks. . Instant transportation, instant coffee, instant money. Heck, I don’t even have to let the coffee cool. Instant pain!

With a few clicks of my mouse I can compress my life into a smattering of digital images and attach them to an email. And the recipient can hit the delete key even faster. The other day I caught myself laughing. Maybe my tombstone could just be a chunk of granite with the word “Deleted” in stark Arial font.

There was a brief moment that I thought a personal computer might be the solution to my problems. Sitting in front of an Apple ][ using my television as a display device was a moment of anticipation. I really got excited when I could connect to a BBS system (at 300 baud!) to send messages. And the world began to embrace the possibilities. I’m old enough to remember the “net” before a GUI made it friendly!
Where are those people I used to share coding hints with today? Who cares that POKE 33,40 could change margins? Less than ten years after Pete Seeger was singing where have all the flowers gone I was writing primitive email to people who seemed important at that moment. Where have all of those people gone?

I have different mail accounts for any occasion. My persona is fractured into my interests, desires, dreams, and fears. I have IDs for each slice of my life. If someone is on two accounts I’ve either had a “senior moment” or they are special. Add your own definition of “special” at this point.

I “found” an email account today that I’d forgotten about. After two attempts I signed in and lo and behold it is still active. Even more amazing it seemed to be virgin territory. The INBOX isn’t crammed with ways to enlarge my breasts AND ways to improve my manhood. There is no special email from a Canadian Pharmacy bursting with blue pills and no hot teenage girl is panting to meet just me. The account sits there empty. A tabla rasa. No contacts. No drafts. No folders. Empty. Maybe I’ll leave it that way.

Months ago I was asked to deliver a eulogy for a friend. It’s one of those things that can be expected as we “age gracefully.” We gathered together; I spoke a few words; and some in attendance closed their mental account. I’ll bet there are digital photos somewhere in cyberspace of some of us there. I’ll bet a few attendees might even have cell phones still loaded with his number. Sometimes we’re too busy to use the delete key. Maybe we fear hitting it.

Hold it! Not yet! I’m almost done.

I’m thinking about a way to contrive a mechanism that brings closure. I need to invent a cyber-eulogy. I have e-mail addresses of people who once meant a great deal to me. OK maybe “great” is overstating my emotions. The “contact” lies dormant. The actual email account might be deleted. Heck, the person might be “deleted.” But that person is on “life support” in MY contact list. It’s an odd feeling. Dead- or- Alive?

We gather to celebrate events in our lives. It is a celebration of our connections. And yet, we have no special ritual to commemorate someone lost when we delete a contact. Our hand just shifts, a finger moves and the deed is done. The screen refreshes. The contact is gone. No pain.

OK. You can now do it. Hit delete. I’m gone.