Tuned In and Turned Off

Let’s go back — waaaaay back — to a simpler time.
(Cue wavy lines)

It’s the mid-90s and no one else I know has an email address. Oh, wait… I have one friend with an AOL address; does that count? I read most of an actual newspaper over breakfast in the morning with the radio on for jokes, music and traffic. Before I leave for work, I make sure my answering machine is on. I do not check for messages until after work.

The day is hectic but aside from lame design suggestions by the sales guys or phone calls from clients I’m not interrupted by an onslaught of email — because no one has an email address or even a website yet.

At night I don’t watch much TV (although I never miss an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street); I play guitar, sometimes for a couple of hours. My friend and I make weekly “Tower Runs” — meet up at Tower Records to bullshit and buy CDs, then go for a drink or some extra-salty diner food. I read magazines and at least one book a week.

I get birthday cards on my birthday and Christmas cards at Christmas; sometimes I get (or write) letters from/to friends who’d moved away. I have a cell phone, but rarely use it; frankly, there isn’t much that couldn’t wait. When I buy something I go to a store.

You get the idea.

Now, I communicate almost exclusively through email, SMS or, once in a while, Facebook notes. I don’t really have “friends” on Twitter — not the kind I know from being face-to-face; I follow media outlets so I constantly check my feed (from my iPhone, natch) for the latest earthquake du jour, ugly celebrity meltdown or about how some tech titan has created a new “tool” that’s more about collecting personal information than it is about making my complicated life less tedious.

I can’t remember the last DVD I purchased since everything I watch is downloaded; I did buy the Iron Man 2 soundtrack only because AC/DC will not, for some reason, put their songs on iTunes.

The number of actual cards — the paper kind with the nebulous message inside — I receive in the course of a year has dwindled to a trickle; instead I get wall posts, email and the rare tweet.

The initial Facebook reunions were nice but ultimately the interactions become unsatisfying; it’s more like a game of seeking some kind of acknowledgement from people that have little or no part of my current life here in Australia. The premise seems workable: you post little updates or photos about what’s happening and wait for little comments. Most of my friends are part of a recent — or very distant — past, and it all feels hollow. If anything, I’m reminded of why we lost touch in the first place — so I got that goin’ for me.

Back in the day I felt like I was ahead of the curve in my career by being so wired into the emerging digital/online landscape; it even helped me as a freelancer when other designers balked at offering website design as part of their services. Aside from a few games (some that loaded from multiple floppies!) I spent almost no time at a computer when I wasn’t at work. Now, between my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro, I am plugged in literally all day. Not good.

I don’t really have a point to make, just an observation that as a loner living abroad my online life is relatively rich; my disappointment is with myself for relying on it for validation.

  1. Selma said:

    I know what you mean. My online life in many ways is richer than my offline life (mainly because I work from home in an online capacity.) What I have noticed recently is that some of my friends who were vehemently opposed to the online world as ‘an exercise in wasting time’ have gradually begun to embrace various forms of social media. I think it is an inevitable part of modern life. And you know what? If you’re hanging out with the right online crowd it does offer a form of validation. Having said that, I miss those birthdays where I received real cards in the mail. I miss the crazy messages people used to leave on the old 80s answering machines. And I miss seeing people sitting in the park at lunchtime reading their books. Such is life. A great post!

  2. Eddie said:

    Thanks 🙂

    All my friends who scoffed at being online are all on Facebook, which is simple enough to do; I just wish the’yd get on to Skype!

    I used to create answering machine greetings by first taping bits of songs together to form a sentence then record the whole thing as my outgoing message. Seems so primitive now when I think of trying to press “Record” and “Pause” on my cassette recorder at exactly the right moments 😛

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