faster and faster and faster…
Honestly, the idea of my place in the digital divide is a question I have struggled with for a long time. However, as I sat in the hospital on Thanksgiving, awaiting word on Mother’s condition…
waiting and waiting and waiting
… I contemplated the question of who I was in the digital world, over and over and over.
My phone battery had died hours before. I was alone. I bugged the nurses non-stop. Looking at my Mom, helpless in the hospital bed for hours, I felt truly alone. I wrestled with the thoughts racing through my mind. I was alone, alone-no texts, no email, no facebook.
Relegating myself to borrow a pen and piece of copy paper from the nurse’s station, I decided to attempt to gather my thoughts on “digi”me. I shuffled myself to the waiting room-less sterile and bleak than sitting, staring at my Mom, motionless in the hospital bed. I sat for who-knows-how-long, numb.
Some time later, a woman came in crying with her children . They sat on the couch directly facing me, it was hard to pretend not to see them. They whispered and held each other After a while, I realized as they held each other, their grief was shared that moment, that moment, that precious now with each other—No devices. No phones. No technology…
I had become tethered to digital life. The expectation to know and share immediately…
faster and faster and faster
…had become a need for “digi”me.
I stared at the corner piece of paper that had wedged its way between the seat cushions. The blank, white triangle mocking me. I realized I had to share with myself how “digi”me came to be. I tugged the sheet free from the cushions and began to write.
Growing up in a white upper-middle class family, the privileges accorded me, when it came to technology, were extreme. I had the first Apple Macintosh on my bedroom desk. We were taught Basic computer language in the 9th grade. As for the digital divide and divided places, the school I attended in the Panhandle of Texas was barely integrated. My graduating class had one African American, and if I recall correctly, the Hispanic student population topped out at less than ten. In retrospect, I see how my misconceptions of “digi”me took root. I truly believed that everyone had unlimited access to computers. My insulated exposure developed into exasperation with those who did not have the same skill sets as me during my early adulthood. While writing that last sentence, I cringe that this is a trait I still have to check from time-to-time.
When I began school at the University of Texas, Austin in 19xx the internet was still in it’s infancy. But in my mind – it held exponential opportunity. I was still in the closet. This was a time when tolerance for homosexuals was not the majority mindset. Introduction to online bulletin boards allowed me to be myself for the very first time, and explore my true self in the ether of the internet. It also exposed me to other gays in the Austin area. This developing “digi”me broadened my understanding of internal struggles I experienced growing up gay in a small town in Texas. I for the first time, with the help of the internet, found a place where it was okay to be gay.
This positive introduction to the digital realm had a negative impact as well. As I revisit this time of my life, I see that I formed two distinct identities: my gay-self online and my straight-self in the real world. I see that this separation isolated me later, when I began relying on digital realms solely for social interactions. I know now this was not healthy.
Fresh with this new digital duplicity, and completely over college, I was asked to write a screenplay about the Internet. For a year I researched the new and vibrant hacker world portrayed on the pages of — the then obscure — Wired magazine. The film began evolving around a computer programmer who lost all his physical belongings during a house fire. Due to his ever increasing isolation he delves into the virtual world of an underground bulletin board, eventually losing his mind. A place on the “old” internet where all the deviants came to play. Something we take with a grain of salt in 2014, since anonymity is no longer expected online. The independent film “Electric Tribe” never saw distribution, but played the festival circuit. As for the “digi”me after that experience, I felt that the internet was going to become a place people would be lost. Reality sacrificied Where the fraying sides of the social fabric would begin to unravel at an ever increasing pace…
faster and faster and faster.
A nurse tapped me on the shoulder and I was catapulted back to the moment. Ripping me from ruminations of realized realities. She tells me mom is awake. Before I get up, I look to the family on the facing couch. In my trance of long hand, I forgot about them. They are arguing over who gets to talk next to ‘Mamma’. The kids begin grabbing for their mother’s smartphone, while she struggles to switch to speakerphone among the onslaught of little hands. The sound of Mamma fills the hospital waiting room. It is welcome and comforting.
“Thank god for smartphones.”
The kids are giggling. The mother responds
“We were really upset. We didn’t think we were gonna be able to get a hold of you! Daniel is going to be fine.”
There are two sides to every divide, and in the digital one reconciliations are forced to happen…
faster and faster and faster.