Confession: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, even Twitter. I can’t stop looking. I know in my soul that it’s so many baby pictures and SNL retweets. It’s rainbow pics snapped from the Ballard bridge and last night’s dinner. But I can’t help it. What if it’s more? What if that guy I liked in ninth grade got married in secret and moved to Jamaica? How else would I find this out? I know that one of my favorite professors has moved from Jazzercise to pole dancing. I know that my mom’s best friend from college who lives a few states over has opened a bee farm. And I know that my brother’s best man sautéed onions last night. How else will I know that Suzy made pumpkin pie, or that Doug the Pug rolled over, or that the sweet little girl who designs clothes out of paper got to meet the guy from Project Runway? Zach? The one with the dark hair and nice suits.
I wouldn’t know, and isn’t it normal to dread the unknown?
Though this get-off-your-phone injunction is almost out of fashion, like those pants that Heidi Klum refuses to wear anymore, it’s still pertinent enough to my existence to warrant a confession. I’ve tried to quit cold turkey, fasting from different portions at regular intervals. As with all things candy, too much and I forget the joy of life without it. Where’s the patch for this? Even though I know it’s going to be the same election arguments every four years and that the same electric Beethoven Christmas light show on that house with a face will be shared over and over. I just follow the instinct that screams “this is the avenue into knowing and being known.”
But something’s wrong. I saw a Facebook friend at Target. We made eye contact over the knock-off flip-flops but quickly looked away. It must have been a simultaneously recollection that we’ve never actually met in person. I know her as well as I know famous people – in pictures. And though I feel instinctively that Chris Pine and I would laugh hard and Ryan Gosling and I would make beautiful children, I still don’t know them. Yet. Despite this, I hit like on her Stranger Things carved pumpkin design last week, and I’m sure if we actually had talked we could have at least launched a convo with a mutual “poor Barb.” Right?
That six degrees of separation thing is kind of an alluring crock. I’m probably only four from Ellen, and five from Steve Zahn. I’m only two from Ridley Scott, but it doesn’t mean that Tom will introduce me. I’m so faux-connected. Not exactly braggable, but extroverted, I trudge on.
I sort of blame You’ve Got Mail. That movie made the signature AOL dialup sound iconic. It froze Meg and Tom in time and normalized, even romanticized, everything from internet dating to complex Starbucks orders. There’s a moment in it when Greg Kinnear, the typewriter lover who calls Meg “a lone reed,” says that the reason people have a VCR (ancient recording and playback device) is so we don’t miss what’s on tv, but we leave the house in order to miss what’s on tv. It makes sense. Our FOMO takes over and the fear of being forgotten or rejected is curbed momentarily when someone buzzes in or dings with a like or comment, retweet or snap. We crave the familiar. It’s like an IQ test seeing how many synapses we can fire at once as we make mental connections. It’s a quiz with a cheat sheet in the top left corner. Click for connection. How many mutual friends? I didn’t know you two knew each other!
I went to a party last night hoping to find some kinship or at least have a pic to post, but walking in I felt that insecure rush of awkward: where do I stand and who do I talk to and why am I wearing this? I stood watching people trying to dance and wondered if I’d lose all self if I joined in, like those people who say that photographs remove parts of the soul. I don’t agree with that, but for a split second I wondered if there was something to it. Then, familiarity filled the space between me and soullessness. Neighbors who helped move the old tree branches in the summer time, a kindred, a friend, a former student, my sister. These who knew me asked a question or two, walked through the dance circle to get a water with me, and they never questioned my Melania outfit or my cue cards with Michelle’s speeches on them.
Maybe connection isn’t so Hollywood dreamy, so far-away hopeful and filter-full pretty. Maybe it’s like Tom Hanks’ grocery greeting of, “Hello Rose. That is a nice name.” It’s a smile back at Target and making my own Star Wars pancakes instead of being jealous of yours. I’ll probably be grading at Starbucks tomorrow, if you want to join in, and I won’t be mad at all if you decide to post a picture of your macchiato.