Thursday, February 7, 2019


You: I secretly love meatloaf.
Friend:  So do I!  😊
You: My mom put ketchup on the top.  
Friend:  OMG!  Really?
You: Really!
Friend: Send me a pic of yours.
You:  Okay.
Friend:  You will?
You:  Sure.
Friend:  You put bacon on it?
You: Yeah....

This is where we die. 

Futzing around with the camera on our cellphones to take a picture of the meatloaf.  Or the cat.  Or the car.  Or the kid.  Or the squirrel outside our window holding a nut like a flugelhorn.  Calculate the amount of time it takes to take the photo, then the time to attach it and send to your friend, then press SEND. I don’t care how fast and agile you are at this, that time means only one thing:

There went your symphony.  There went the book you were going to write.  The rug you were going to hook.  The hair you were going to cut.  The sunset you were going to watch.  The car you were going to fix. The sex you were going to have.

(By the way, once the photo is taken and you sit down to actually eat the meatloaf, and just as your fork is poised over the first steaming bite, you know what’s going to happen, right?  PING!  New message.  Someone you barely know.  “I’m so sad.”  Jesus Christ!)

This is literally how we’re going to die, a phone skittering across the cold winter sidewalk as we hit the ground with what feels like a sledge hammer ripping into our chest.  The not-yet-sent cat picture on our phone will be staring up at the gawkers as they crowd around us, then up at the paramedics as they call it.  I often wonder, would a kind-hearted parademic, as they’re packing up their stuff, notice your phone, pick it up, and press “SEND” for you, so that your very last cat picture can make its way zipping and zapping across the solar system only to land in the inbox of someone who works in the cubicle directly beside yours? 

We all know this is mass madness, yet we keep doing it.  And now there are perhaps two generations on this planet who know no other way.

There was, of course, exactly that.  I had about fifteen years of adulthood with the other way, and I can tell you we had a hell of a lot more fun.  Or so it seemed to me.  We actually had parties, we drank, we fooled around, we read books, we got in arguments, we went to the movies and the theatre and most of the time we had no idea what we were about to see.  We watched our kids play and we got our photos developed at the IDA (look it up). 

Some pretty pernicious lies were sold to us shortly around that time, however.  The notion of electronic communication being as good as being physically present is one of the big ones.  This was sold by Madison Avenue, of course; I remember TV commercials of grandma and grampa just yucking it up and so cheery with delight as they talked via computer to their grandson Sparky three thousand miles away. The message was simple: you don’t have to be together to be together. 

Total lie, of course. Try comforting a kid with a dead dog that way.  Try saying goodbye to someone on their deathbed that way.

What I don’t think anyone anticipated – how could they? – was our appetite for the mindless repetitious nonsense of communication.  It's not just our wanting to say something, it's how we say it.  Who knew grown-ups would end conversations in this way?  

You:  I should go now.
Friend:  Ok.
You:  You?
Friend:  Yeah. 
You: Talk tomorrow?
Friend:  Sure.
You:  When?
Friend:  Not sure.
You:  Let me know.
Friend:  Ok.
You:  Ok.
Friend:  Later.
You:  Later.
Friend:  Night.
You: Night.
Friend:  Be good.
You: I will.
Friend:  Tomorrow.
You: You got it.
Friend: Sleep time.
You:  Me too.

It’s “Marty” on steroids.

This is time out of our lives!  We are crashing our cars in order to continue these conversations!

Clearly we need to get out of this, but it isn't going to be easy.  It’s a cinch that corporate America isn’t going to help us.  No, they will do everything they possibly can to stop us.  It’s a cinch the media is also going to want to put the brakes on, either, and we all know our friends are going to want to scotch the idea as well.  After all, they want to show us their Christmas tree, both before and after it was decorated.  

But we can do it.  Here’s how.

One: we need to break ourselves of our narcissism.  Fact: our meatloaf isn’t that important, and our cat just looks like another cat, and who cares that you’re in Target now or that you got a space right up nice and close? 

Second: we need to imagine that the person we want to communicate with just wrote an editorial in the New York Times about how goddamned stupid we are.  Imagine.  If that were the case, you would be very very very selective about your first communication with that person so soon after publication. You certainly wouldn’t lead with “Man!  Look what’s the special at Burrito King!”  No. You have to say something of  super serious value. It truly has to be along the lines of, “Hi Dale: The value of a socialist state is in direct proportion to the merits of the lives of its least enabled members.”  Like that!  But NOT “Awww, Mr. Whiskers put his paw in the toaster.”

Third: Assume a diagnosis of six months to live.  My guess is you will soon be cooking up a storm, playing with the kids, having sex with your spouse (hell, maybe other’s spouses as well), and because you’re not really sick, you have plenty of energy for all of this.

Fourth: Read.  Not a phone.  A book.  Read.  Get caught up in it.  I don’t care what.  Just read. Every day.

And decide that yes, Rabbi Paddy gave us one of the greatest truths we've ever been given when he said this:  "I'm a human being, goddammit!  My life has value!"


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