The Internet does not love you.
Yesterday morning we had a gas leak on my street. My roommate woke me up when he discovered that the SF Fire Department had blocked the road.
Two things immediately occurred to me:
1) I need to check on the status of my renter’s insurance.
2) I could have lit the stove and blown up the neighborhood.
The neighborhood is still in one piece and the firefighters were very friendly, but I had a cloud hanging over my head the rest of the day because, in my comfortable and happy little life, I was reminded that bad things happen and life is very precious. The gas leak could have been really bad and I, or my neighbors, could have blown up the neighborhood.
No surprise, then, that my dream that night was about dying. I remember hovering in some sort of purgatory where I was able to find out what people said about me when it happened.
I’d seen this idea on Twitter this week after Roger Ebert's passing. One user admitted that he hoped to know when he would pass so that he could read what people said about him in advance.
It turns out that, in my dream, this wasn't very fulfilling. In fact, it was depressing, but for a non-obvious reason. I remember sitting there, next to another soul in purgatory, and was disappointed to see that only 126 people had commented on my obituary on Facebook. The comments were short and sweet, mostly from people I hadn't talked to in years, like that girl who melted crayons on the playground. The guy sitting next to me in this purgatory leaned over to see how I was doing compared to him. In that moment, I remember being embarrassed that I wasn't concerned about how my family was feeling, only about what people were saying online.
It causes me to reflect on a conversation I recently had with some friends (in real life) about the value of Facebook. One, who had deleted his profile, asked the group, "Why do you use it?" No one in the circle seemed to come up with a great or defensible answer, but we all basically concluded that it's an easy way to check in with people.
Following that conversation, I looked at my feed with new eyes and noticed all the people who don't really know anything about me digitally participating in my life. And that was weird.
Forbid that my house had blown up with me in it… how many of these people would have feigned deep friendships with me? How many would have shared the news with strangers? More importantly, would I have been happy with where I left those relationships in my life that actually mattered?
In my dream, I wasn’t. In real life, I’m not either.
Just last week, Facebook notified me that it was the birthday of an old acquaintance. He turned 25 this year and a lot of people across my newsfeed were rushing to wish him well:
“Party it up, but I don't need to tell YOU that! Haha!”
“Happy birthday! Here’s to a great year! :-)”
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I LUV YOU!”
It was awkward, spying on this, because I know, from the news, that the birthday boy is in prison, serving a five-year sentence for white collar crime (not the kind of thing you post on Facebook, is it?). If it meant sending a birthday note to prison, would these “friends" have cared to? I know I didn’t.
There is certainly value within online platforms (like this one) that help us share our lives and our stories. There are moments in life that deserve an audience.
Yet from my terrible dream came a valuable reminder: The Internet does not love you. Spend more time with those who really do.