ONE WEEKNIGHT THIS SPRING, wiped from a huge day, I stumbled out of the shower and into the kitchen for a glass of water before bed. Dinner dishes overflowed the sink like a sewage backup. Not tonight, I sighed, retucking the towel around myself and looking absently for the wine bottle I remembered had a splash left. Man, what a day, I thought, swigging the last of the wine straight from the bottle. I had enough dishes to wash.
It wasn’t till I turned to give my daughter a kiss good night that I saw them. “Hi Kath!” sang the siblings and parents of my daughter’s classmate P. “Looks like someone’s just out of the shower!”
There they stood, all five of them, beaming and waving from the screen of the computer my daughter does her homework on. The computer she uses to Skype her friends so they can do homework “together.” The computer whose connection to Skype, the Internet telephone-video service, was transmitting a real-time visual of my derelict kitchen and Medusa hair—not to mention ladylike drinking habits—into the living room of a family I was reasonably sure had once thought well of me.
“ACK! Wow…uh…hi,” I stammered, pulling my towel tighter. They smiled and waved again. OMG, I thought irritably, smiling. How long had this thing been on and what other domestic gems had they been party to? My phone conversation from before? (Please God say I didn’t discuss these people or any of their loved ones.) My husband bellowing that he couldn’t find any clean boxers? Oh man…oh jeez…did I sing?
When exactly did these people move in with us?
I’d like to say that this was a random event, but I feel invaded like this more and more all the time—and almost always thanks to technology. The irony is that the early rap on technology was that it would isolate us from each other.
How quaint that seems now. Oh, I know my iPod keeps me from bonding with neighbors on my bus; that Bluetooth ear buds primarily alienate by rendering the professionals who converse on them impossible to distinguish from the unmedicated schizophrenics. I adored my new Kindle until I realized I could no longer pass a beloved book on to just the right friend. Sure, technology erects barriers.
But it also enables a new proximity I find unnerving. Last summer when our sewer line exploded and the plumber we called said something about $18,000, my husband posted a primal howl on Facebook and within the hour had the names of three personally referenced rooters who came in cheaper. It was Facebook at its finest, shrinking a big impersonal city into a tight-knit network of friends and acquaintances who have each other’s backs. Being on Facebook is like living in a small town.
Great, right? Yeah…till it isn’t. My husband and daughter relish small town life, happily knitting Facebook’s endless intrusions into the fabric of their day. (And updating me, bizarrely, on the love lives of my old friends.) Me, I grew up in a small town, and to me Facebook serves up personal insecurities with the same precision but a much bigger bullhorn. Now one’s unpopularity, once only whispered about, can be quantified: You (really do only!) have 12 friends. Now you can see which of your friends are talking to each other but not to you. Your status flutters in the breeze, naked and blunt. Of your own making, yes—just like a reputation.