…I wrote the following back in early 2000 as part of a (unpublished) novel about a writer. I tell you this because: a. the essay includes no mention of social media and I didn’t want you to think, God forbid, that I was living in a cave; and b. I’m trying to brag, in subtle fashion, that I observed this whole intimacy with strangers dynamic looooong ago, before everyone else was writing about this stuff… also that I wrote a novel at 27; and c. I’m kind of sad that it never got published so I plan on chopping it up and publishing on here. Just saying…
Today there are no signatures. I sign all my e-mails “S”, and it seems to be good enough. I have corresponded for months with people whose voices I have never heard. I do not know if they have a quick East Coast way of catching your sentences before you say them, or if they’re Midwesterners who listen until you’re well past done, and you’re waiting and waiting for them to say something.
I do not know these things because all the lines and words and sentences come out the same in my inbox, with no spaces or pauses or interrupted syllables, no heavy smoker’s timbre, no just-out-of-grad-school deliberateness. I cannot hear or feel. I know only what passes through the spell check.
Now it’s all in the imagining, and in the censorship. The ability to be anyone we chose to be, very carefully, and to be with anyone we can conjecture. In fact, it doesn’t matter who the “letter” is from, just who we think it could be from, and what we think they think of us.
In cyberspace, there is nothing as personal as, for example, finding someone’s hair on your jacket when you come home from meeting with him or her over lunch. You cannot smell anyone’s cologne hastily dashed on; you cannot feel their foot accidentally knock yours under the table. It is hospital sterile in here.
And at the same time, it is violently intimate.
In cyberspace, there is nothing as mundane, as subtle, as finding someone else’s hair on your jacket. The conversation is somehow more open, more daring, more immediately personal, even with people you know in real life. Sometimes I wonder what happens to people online, what chemical changes are taking place as the modem comes alive. We type in things we would never say. We confide and advise and allude and become a sort of ghost accomplice, a sudden Times New Roman best friend.
When we meet again, in person, we often do not speak of the e-mail. We must start over. No-fair cyber, we’d say, if we wanted to talk about it.
But we don’t. In fact, in person, there is often very little to talk about.
We seem to be living in a post-human time, one degree away from life. Seeking some self-knowledge by machinated expressions, by echo – - like Narcissus, by reflection.
This, too, is a pool we can fall into as we look, but the drowning feels much better than we’d imagined.
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