“Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?” I parroted to my mother as I stood on one leg with my arm in the air, a human antenna.
The joys of Skype-ing with the world’s slowest Internet connection: Conversations are long enough to make contact, but too short to conquer the ache.
I know there’s an art to staying in touch, but what happens when you feel like you’ve fallen off the map? How do you address those cumbersome issues of efficiency, proficiency and frequency?
Because I have failed at all three since I moved here.
Technology is partly to blame, but the larger problem is this almost tectonic shift in my life, which can be hard to articulate. I seem to be standing with my feet on either side of the fault line, trying to figure out a middle ground.
And so I selectively post updates on Facebook. I glean morsels about other people’s lives from my newsfeed. All of this, without writing a single line to anyone else.
When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to document my life. I wrote maudlin poetry and melodramatic diary entries. I dashed off letters to distant relatives. (As a result, I’ve cultivated a peculiar fascination with stationery: I have saved almost all of my birthday cards and hoarded an unsettling number of unsent postcards.)
I may have inherited my letter-writing hobby from my father, who used to mail pithy, end-of-year updates. But now there’s no need for the exhaustive litany of who did what. What’s the point in writing a letter when you can pursue someone’s movements online?
The longer I’m on Facebook, the more it encompasses of my life. My social ecosystem has ballooned to include childhood friends, former co-workers and, in some cases, people I’ve only met once.
So I provide updates in piecemeal, forging a public history that serves two purposes: First, it tells the world I’m all right on the other side of the world; second, it highlights the otherworldliness of living here. It packages my life into something much grander than it really is.
And so I am refracted through the Internet in such a way that the sum will never add up to its parts. Sarah Wanenchak said it best: “If we are poets and scribes, we are also digital magpies; we pick and gather and aggregate from everywhere.”
Developing my online profile has been (somewhat unconsciously) divisive: In its simplest form, it’s the version of myself I present to the world; at its most complicated, it’s a mishmash of all my online identities. But even this falls short — they’re only snippets of a life I edit.
And online, I can be braver, funnier and more astute than I am “in real life”. As for the flawed, quasi-tragic side — well, I try to sweep that side under the rug. Does anyone really want to know that my solitude, whether by design or choice, sometimes feels intolerable? Or that I tripped and fell in front of three repairmen and their subsequent kindness made me feel like bawling?
I worry that my public and private selves are polarized, that they won’t easily fit in the same space — even if this composite would be a more honest facsimile of who I am.
Still, since I am housebound most of the day, the online world is a lifeline. Perhaps I need to censor myself less, then sit back and await the consequences. Maybe it’s possible for the Internet to make me feel more human.
I’ve shied away from making a grand announcement or posting any photos about my pregnancy on Facebook. This semi-reticence stems from my uncertainty about the parameters of sharing.
My partner abhors the indiscretions of social media — he finds online confessions indelicate. (He used to pop up in my right margin as “A friend I should reconnect with”. “Why,” he would ask me, “would I post on your Facebook wall when we live together?”)
He also worries about the sanctity of private moments. I don’t think he loves the idea that the baby’s first steps might become online fodder, or that as we’re living our lives, I may be researching my next story.
I do understand how he feels. Once something is “out there”, it becomes part of an unwieldy, communal space. The online world is not as tangible as a person or a postcard or a letter. And it seems strange to think that the baby already occupies a space online before it enters the real world.
But it’s possible to look at it from a different perspective. This online documentation is like a digital love letter, which says, “Even before you arrived, you were much thought about, anticipated, loved.”