Caught Between the Bits: A Digital Birthmark

You take a step backwards. You exhale and extol your own creation. The first step towards unification. You topple your stool, pick it back up. You reposition it, yourself. Re-establish your position to the computer. Inhale. Exhale. Blink twice. Focus.

*Turn on*

The verisimilitude of belonging to a community slowly creeps up on you, and as you start to realise this is nothing but a mere rehabilitation of your self on the World Wide Web, those feelings of exuberant satisfaction slowly subside. Your gaze languidly scans the Facebook-page that you have just established. Guided by the uncontrolled saccades of your eyes, you move your cursor towards the homepage.

*You click, stare, refresh. Nothing*

The dark days of solipsism are finally over. At least, that’s what you think. A strange concoction of enthusiasm and self-disgust still resides in your trembling body. You never had the guts to engage in social contact. You ask yourself why you’re doing this.

*Another click, stare, refresh. Still nothing*

You have always been utterly precarious with giving way to social media. You still remember last week’s toilsome conversation about the implications of Zuckerberg’s internet monopoly with Dan, the only colleague that seems to care at least that much for you. “But they will permanently store your information and put it to good use for commercial ventures” you said disapprovingly. Still, you revoked and made a page anyway. Why not? Everyone does it.

*Click, stare, refresh*

Days go by, and suddenly a friend request pops up on your phone. It’s your caring colleague, Dan. “Is this true?!” you exclaim overenthusiastically, propelling your bangers ‘n mash through the single room apartment you’ve been renting for the past year. Over the course of the next week the intangible social web that is your Friends list slowly but gradually starts to expand. You get happier by the day. Finally, after all those years of solitude, after the onerous period of radio silence when you took French leave and abandoned your parents, leaving them behind, somewhat fifteen hundred kilometres apart, you feel included. You, albeit the digital you, are in the limelight.

*Click, stare, reply*

Your self-confidence is boosted and by the time three weeks have passed since your page aired you’ve reached the 1000-friend mark. Could this be so easy? It shouldn’t be…

*Click, stare, reply, reply, reply, reply, repl…, rep…, r…*

You doze off.

New day at work. Your colleagues greet you now. Julia even invited you to join her at lunch. You gladly accept but you are frightened. Online you have a quick mouth, but in the real, nah. “Improvise, adapt, overcome” you whisper to yourself. “Shit. That’s Bear Grylls. Never mind…”. So much for your creative spirit.

*Click, stare, reply, request, add, react, laugh, frown, cry*

Noon. As you enter the canteen, Julia is already there. You slowly approach her, fondling the 20-pound note in your pocket that was already creased and folded like an unwashed fitted sheet. “Hi” she says. Your heartrate increases. You look into her eyes, dig your toes in and start uttering a torrent of highly unconnected words about how satisfactorily quickly your Facebook-page is growing. Soon you realise a Facebook-centred soliloquy might not be your best shot. You switch to complimenting Julia on her looks and how you’ve always thought her to be the most attractive of all of your co-workers. An extensive appreciation of her physicality is all that seems to matter now. This is your only shot. In the ten minutes to come you never stop. You avoid discontinuation and only revert to short breathing intermezzos when necessary. You abide by the rules of monologue and continue the rage that is most symptomatic of what some might call verbal diarrhoea.

*Offline*

You don’t understand. You deliberately chose to fix your gaze upon her as to not lose contact! Her body that was just before you, the pulsating heat that radiated off her breath, which you felt piercing the thin layer of clothing on your skin, the energy that emitted from her upright posture. Gone in an instant. She just dissolved. Transposed to one of the great many universes where her left is her alternate’s right and vice versa. An event that would take Sean Carroll off guard. But you don’t care about quantum physics. You care about Julia. Or was it Julliette?

*Online*

You’re overcome by a feeling of insecurity and utter stupidity when you realise you’re self-employed. The image of an out-of-home physical workspace collapses. The idea that this was all a construct arises and you feel ashamed. Ashamed of the self-legitimation of your longings through the construction of an imaginary utopian setting. You never set foot outside for the past three days. The clock reads 2 A.M. You’re in the exact same position as you were seven hours ago, only now is your body finally reacting to the hunger and dehydration that normally keep you awake. You vertiginously try to readjust your sight, but you barely manage. The inanimate objects in your field of vision laboriously reassemble into a coherent frame again that now portrays the contours of your apartment, lit dimly by the blue light that emanates from your computer. You come to terms with yourself, reground in the here and now. The sour smell of a pizza-past-its-date and mouldy coffee melange enters your olfactory system. You feel sick. You don’t know any Julia.

*Creep,         CREEP crEEp     CreeP        Cr33p
Creeeeep        creePPP    Creep!!!        Cr#Ee3P
Cree!P!!!P                CREEEEEEP!!!        CREEP
F*cking CREEP         @!$%?&                Filthy ******* *** ***             *

You open your Facebook-page and review the archive of your private messages. The sickness grows. You can’t remember having sent all these derogatory, oppressing messages! You’re a creep. So think the many women you approached for no ascertainable reason. It’s the somnambulism again… Bereft of the last tad bit of self-confidence, you smash your head into your keyboard and start sobbing. The social contact, the conversations, the laughs, the serious discussions, your work environment, cubicle, personal headset, Julia. All imagined. So much for your creative spirit.

*Turn off*

Caught in the push-and-pull process of social media engagement, you succumb to the 0s and 1s that enabled this social degeneration. The digital role model, the ‘you’ you strived to be, imagined to be to escape the confronting nature of the everyday life, the isolation that amplified the negative counterpart of the dichotomic you… You’re immortalised. A digital birthmark of your self, you are. But the wrong self. They’ll use your personal information for commercial ventures and you know it. The creepy you knows it. And it perpetuates.

 

By Kees Müller

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