JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Virtually all of my friends are plastic

Date

Brigid Delaney

"Screens let people in - and with all of them switched on life became hectic."

"Screens let people in - and with all of them switched on life became hectic." Photo: Louise Kennerley

A few weeks ago I contracted whooping cough and was quarantined. Thanks to the internet, my isolation was far from lonely. Whilst I would have appeared to the casual observer like a consumptive on the couch - in my mind it felt more like the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

There was a massive, never-ending multi-tribal gathering going on inside my virtual world. There was music and YouTube clips being swapped, shared and played, people talking loudly and over the top of each other, someone brandishing a fistful of holiday or baby snaps trying to hold someone, anyone's! interest. There were people flirting, many arguments, the drunks whom people ignored. There was the sad woman crying and her friends flooding her with positive affirmations. And there were the wallflowers, lurking on the edges, mostly silent.

In my quarantine I usually had between four and six screens going at any one time: a tablet, two laptops, a touch phone, a Kindle and a television. Screens let the people in - and with all them switched on life became hectic.

Several writers I greatly admire who write about modern life are circumspect about technology.

The American novelist Jonathan Franzen has said ''Liking'' (on facebook) is for cowards and to go ''for what hurts''.

Zadie Smith, reflecting on the movie The Social Network, talked of the rise of 2.0 People, their virtual networks and the implications: ''we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears''.

They are sceptics for the same reason I was: the things that make us human can only happen in a human-shaped space, not in an internet-shaped space that sucks time with the force of a black-hole.

I was an enthusiastic supporter of the ''techno-sceptics'' believing authentic connection could only occur IRL (In Real Life). I yearned for a way of life that was extinct - an agrarian socialist ideal where all conversations were face to face, where eye contact and body language was the interface.

But my quarantine sparked a rethink. Maybe screens are all we need?

I set my Skype to ''available'' and started booking up friends. These calls - scheduled for an hour or so - were on video and felt no different from meeting in a cafe.

On the laptop I signed in to two instant messenger (IM) accounts. This is the real life equivalent of casual banter, perfectly capturing people's voices but in text. A friend who pauses a lot in conversation, who likes time to think, may include lots of ---- (dashes). While friends who talk a lot IRL will IM as if their fingers are on fire.

Facebook was the place I sought sympathy and solace for my whooping cough. Twitter was where I got my intellectual kicks.

With all the ways there are to communicate, far from technology making us all homogenous androids - people's personality quirks shone through. With Sharon we communicated by email but she never answered her phone. With Lee it was through Gmail instant messenger. Was this not the essence of what it means to be human - that we are not one-browser-fits-all?

I found living a wholly virtual life was not incompatible with the values espoused by the radical humanists whose writings I admired. Only connect - asked E. M. Forster? I couldn't disconnect. I also discovered there can be depth in the virtual world.

Facebook opens you up. The lives of others wash over you - as relentless as a tide. As for depth - in my quarantine I was reconnecting with friends who lived far away.

I felt I could stay here - in this new land called Quarantine - scrolling and clicking, connecting and commenting, living in the world of the declarative Tweet, the meme, the Instagram photos, the status update, the text message, The ''Like'', the breaking news, the live cross, the Skype hook-up, the Youtube video, the IM conversations.

But when the fever broke and the course of antibiotics ended, I reluctantly stepped back into the world.

Going out IRL, I felt strangely apprehensive. The resolution was too bright, the pixels too sharp. Eye contact made me feel awkward and I missed the witty banter that now only seemed possible on IM. Boarding the bus, I accidentally touched the driver's hand and his skin felt weird. I had become used to touching plastic and chrome, sliding my hand across the touch-screen.

This other world would take a bit of getting used to again.

Brigid Delaney is a freelance journalist.

Twitter/BrigidWD

Follow the National Times on Twitter

13 comments

  • This article raises some very important questions, like how did you manage to touch the bus driver? With Myki you don't need to buy tickets from the driver. Maybe the driver felt just as weird having a passenger touch him inappropriately. Perhaps the driver had a skin infection that you have now contracted due to you reduced immunity from all the antibiotics you have been taking. Do you frequently touch people on public transport?

    Commenter
    PTV
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 9:48AM
    • Also what if the bus driver has whooping cough now cause of all the erroneous touching going on? If there's anything to take away from this article, it's that touching bus drivers is not ok. Bus drivers are not a trackpad.

      Commenter
      Bert Macklin
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 10:20AM
      • Brilliant article - all social media addicts should read this, and perhaps they might just see how ridiculous and truly sad their lives [if you can call them that] have become.

        Brigid, do you honestly think that this is a good or healthy way to live? Having 'plastic' friends makes you one too, you know. To them you are not really real, nor are they to you.

        Facebook should really be renamed Faceless, because despite the photos and videos people can post there, there is no face-to-face contact on that site - never, because its impossible. Its just virtual reality - you might just as well be playing an online computer game with fictitious characters, where you can 'invent' yourself and pretend to be different.

        Its not real life.

        Commenter
        WillD
        Date and time
        November 21, 2012, 12:07PM
        • Dear Brigid,

          I have some suggestions for you, to further simplify and purify your virtual-real life.

          1. Don't force yourself out into the real world again. this will reduce stress levels for both you and the rest of us.
          2. Order food online and have it delivered and left outside your door, so that you don't even have to face the delivery guy. Make sure you also order Vitamin D supplements to compensate for yourlack of sun exposure and a home gym to prevent your muscles and cardiovascular function from melting away.
          3. Continue your employment electronically.
          4. Cyber date and have cyber sex, using online ordered accessories if necessary.
          5. Adopt a virtual baby online and raise it, if you have maternal urges.
          6. When, as is likely, you go completely nuts, order antipsychotic medication online.
          7. Pre-order your funeral and set a "dead man's handle" program, which triggers an email to the funeral directors when you have not logged in to your computer for a significant period of time!

          Good Luck!

          Commenter
          Reality Bites
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 12:25PM
          • Hey you forgot the reality pet, their available in all shapes and sizes too.

            Commenter
            Oz gal
            Date and time
            November 21, 2012, 4:19PM
        • I have a Surface RT and hope to purchase a Surface Pro in the new year.

          This device is the centerpiece of my existence. Its a home phone, 14gb 3G/hsdpa mobile/home internet, movie/music down-loader, a newspaper, post office, bank, mobile phone and home to 4 VOIP accounts. I can do all these tasks plus more whether sitting at home, work, on the train or sitting down eating lunch whilst using video Skype at Subways. I go home and plug in my Surface into my 65 inch TV and it becomes a home entertainment center.

          All this upfront for $689 for Surface + $50 AV HDMI adapter + $50 for mobile phone + $5 for SIM. The only ongoing costs is $25.43 per month with no contract plus call costs. The best part of Surface is that you use your mobile phone as the access point to the internet through Bluetooth. When the time comes I only have to update the connection and not the device.

          Commenter
          T Hedman
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 1:09PM
          • I agree. The Surface RT is a great productivity tool. Before I got one I had an iPad, but I still felt the need to touch bus drivers. Now with a Surface I'm satisfied with touching the magnificent magnesium case and wonderfully crisp screen, rather than the weird hands of my local public transport operators.

            Commenter
            H Tedman
            Date and time
            November 21, 2012, 2:28PM
          • H,

            Every young school kid has got a smart phone and maybe a netbook for school. Its clearly the way of the future. Mobile, wired and interfaced (inyourface). You cannot escape the virtual worlds hold on our lives.

            Personally I don't twitter or have a Facebook account. Personally I don't catch a bus. My family and friends fill any emotional needs that I might have.

            Kirk,

            I'm T Hedman and not a black female billionaire TV star. There are WIFI hotspots everywhere. I have about 6 unsecured connection just in my street. Subway fits in with my diet as I Skype from the food court. I also notice that my mobile DATA connection has way better performance in CBDs during the day and after 8.30 at night.

            Commenter
            T Hedman
            Date and time
            November 21, 2012, 3:23PM
        • I wonder if T Hedman posted that comment from their iPad.

          The Surface is great and all but it won't love you like a bus driver can.

          Also is there a special reason for restricting your video skyping to Subway? Is the mobile/wi-fi signal there much better than other fast food competitors?

          Commenter
          Kirk Hackman
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 2:43PM
          • 'Was this not the essence of what it means to be human - that we are not one-browser-fits-all?'

            This is true, though you won't find me on Facebook or Twitter, you'll always get me via IM or email, & on the weekends I'll be on gaming forums with virtual reality mates in TS (Team Speak). I have a dozen odd friends IRL that we're all always too busy with work / kids / house etc. to catch up with each other. Yet via online modes we can catch up whenever & the friends list is in the hundreds :D

            Commenter
            Indeed
            Date and time
            November 21, 2012, 2:44PM

            More comments

            Comments are now closed
            Featured advertisers