Four of us were having a perfectly romantic evening when my friend mentioned a YouTube video he wanted to share. My objection was quickly overruled 3-1, and in an instant the viral clip was playing tableside. You've probably seen it: A chimp sticks a finger in his ass, smells the digit, then falls over, drunk on his own stink. Hilarious. I lost my appetite — not because of the monkey's manners, but because of the idiots who were now watching television in a beautiful Italian restaurant.
Let me begin by saying that I'm no Luddite. Technology's awesome: Neil Armstrong, Google, Spotify, ATMs, online porn, MapQuest. Hell, at iTunes U you can take classes from Yale — for free. Still, something in the back of my mind makes me feel we may have jumped into our world of omnipresent media without setting up a few guidelines.
Some kids at a local high school were my inspiration to go cold turkey. Going without Facebook, texting, or e-mail for an entire week, their "Digital Blackout" campaign was a brave step in the right direction, especially given that the average teen today deals with more than 3,700 texts a month. (How they find time to masturbate is beyond me.) I decided to join the scenesters, but not before first gorging for a week on technology.
"First thing you're going to want to do, Stusser, is get an iPhone," Hazel Cisneros says, looking at my MotoRazr. "Does that thing even text?"
Cisneros runs her own social-media company, creating networking strategies for small businesses." Then we've got to set up HootSuite and PATH to manage all your accounts. You're doing Pinterest, right? And LinkedIn? And Viddy? STUSSER!"
With a billion users, Facebook is the biggest network by far, but other special-interest sites are cropping up quickly. There's ArtStack for arties, Heckler for sports fanatics, Pheed for the less friend-friendly, CyPop for common interests, Nextdoor for neighbors, and Luluvise for the ladies.
For the purposes of this experiment, I add a half-dozen networks to my already established Facebook and Twitter accounts, including LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, and Tumblr. And that doesn't even include MySpace — and my 7,000 friends there from back in the day. Like the new kid at a high school, I'm desperately in search of friends on my social nets, cheerily supporting and sharing and tagging every clique I encounter. In the last two minutes alone I've liked a poem by Toni Morrison, Korean BBQ, cuddling cats, Christopher Walken, Deer Tick (the band), Moulin Rouge, the National Zoo (I hate zoos!), a new song by Kasey Chambers, Elisha Cuthbert, trampolines, and a meme that said "Share if you've ever pushed a door that said pull." Without reading a word, I retweet an article because it sounds like something I'd like. ("Meryl Streep Says It's Time to Draw the Line"). And I'm trying to follow the most popular kids in class (Lady Gaga, Kutcher, Obama, etc.), but my ratio is way out of whack: I'm following 2,187 on Twitter, while only 243 are following me.
The new iPhone 5 is the shit. I did some customization with my digital assistant, Siri, adding a nickname in my contacts. Now whenever she's feeling particularly close, Siri will refer to me by the name "Handsome." So I've got that going for me.
The vast majority of my messaging is inane. I'm responding to people I don't know about things I don't particularly care about, and wasting my precious life. Much of social-media interaction amounts to follow for follow, like for like. I was just asked to vote for someone's event company so they could win "Best Wedding Planner of 2012." Is that why we're friends?
I meet again with Hazel, sharing my 487 new friends. "That's great, Stusser. We'll build on that. And I saw you sent tons of Tweets yesterday! Make sure to add photos or hashtags next time — those get twice as many people to read them," she notes, updating her status. "Now the networking you're doing is great, but we need to get you out there."
"A big part of digital technology is LBS," she continues. "Location-based services. Like FourSquare: Every time you're in a new location — in your case, bars — you need to "check in." Eventually you can be Mayor and get discounts! You can even check your friends in." Sounded a bit like stalking. "We also need you live-blogging, and to find you a date at a TweetUp!"
Apparently it's time to leave the house.
Staying true to my constant online presence, I drive and text. (So do you.) Studies have shown that texting and driving is worse than drunk driving. At least when you're drunk and driving, you're looking out the windshield and trying to drive.
I'm using an app called Glympse that makes the predator-drone program look like Candy Land. Today I'm meeting my sister for lunch; we "Glympsed" each other and I could track her movements, and even got an ETA. A few blocks from our destination, her pin suddenly disappears. "You dropped off the map!" I scream into the phone, abandoning my vehicle and braving the last few meters on foot. "I don't know where you . . . !"