Monday, January 23, 2012

Mrs. Megs51015 Wanczytron

For the last many years, I've been a crank about online socialness, but I should always remember my 21-year-old self, churning away at Instant Messenger until 2am, craftily crafting perfect away messages, sometimes in Polish, to project just the right image of me--flippant, unafraid, socially disastrous in that cool way, intelligent, impenetrable.

Impenetrable because one of the great joys of Instant Messenger was the ability to write with candor while at the same time being concealed, to mean what I said without having to own it. IM was a Halloween costume, a foreign language. It topsy-turvied who I could be, and as much as I too-strongly decry facebook for doing the same thing for my self-conscious students, IM may have allowed me to get married.

Explanation: at Holy Cross, Megan was only Megs51015, a pale blue collection of letters that rarely popped up on my screen of their own volition, but which dutifully appeared when called upon. Megs51015 wrote in complete, well-punctuated sentences. Megs51015 seemed to be on my side. Megs51015 also put up craftily crafted away messages, sometimes from British novels.

Megs, the real person, though she was much more compelling than a pale collection of intermittent letters, tended to stay to herself. In the guise of Megs51015, she could interact with Wanczytron. Wanczytron was a fine collection of red letters, perfectly safe. Wanczytron was, after all, easy to turn off. But Dave was an over-tall, overly-stumbling goofball who wanted way too much to type/talk to both versions of Megs. But that would never work.

So, we slowly built up some trust with weekly IMs, mine too-clever to be understood (and so not really very clever at all--those of you who knew me between 1997-2006ish know the sort of interaction I'm talking about).

Her writing, meanwhile, was perfectly patient, full of witty deflections and actual communications about life-stuff, meals, things people actually care about. Really, I'm not proud of the fact that this is how we kept alive a tiny paramecium of friendship, but I can't help thinking that, without those chats, we might not be together at all, might never have become, to continue the metaphor, as close as a Paramecium Aurelia and its bacterial endosymbionts.

In fact, after I asked her out blurtingly over the phone, and then months later, blurtingly in person, it was an IM response that sparked out first date: ice cream at Friendly's, three hours of built-up talkativeness, followed, ultimately, by eight years of built up long-winditude. Now, we never shut up.

So, are technologies that allow for low-impact friendships actually gateways to high-impact, see-your-smile, possibly-make-some-babies friendships? I obviously see how they can be. But what continues to worry me is that most low-impact friendships are actually giving us just enough social nourishment to stay to ourselves. Like images of Italy instead of Italy itself, they give us a warm feeling, just enough to convince us that we're worldly, connected. And, in too many cases, they may not taste as nice as the real gelato.

When the image of Italy encourages the trip, of course, I'm all for it.

And I'm thankful there was a Megs51015. I'm glad there was a Wanczytron, too. But I'm glad they've retired now, traveled to Florence. When I looked at Megs51015, I had to keep staring at Wanczytron, right at all of my silliness. When I look at Megan, there aren't any blinks or beeps, and there's none of my own fooling.


Joe said...

Starred entry on the Soup and Read.

Dave, I very much want to know the 1996-2006ish you. Give me a taste.

Like you, I can't help but feel slightly superior about my stated aversion to low-impact online friendships. But I realize that my aversion is much more significant in what it says about than in what it says about everybody else. I also realize that I don't like to think about the high-impact friendships that were converted to low-impact ones by time and distance, but which are now possibly no-impact friendships because of my own neglect and said aversion.

You two are cuter than a pet store.

Joe said...

I left out the "me" in "what it says about me."