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A World Without Facebook?

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Imagine.

No, not the future where the entire Internet becomes internalized into our teeth and physical structure as I prophesy here.

And no, not that one day -- that one very busy day -- where you forget to check Facebook for a few hours and maybe even neglect to wish a happy birthday to one of your "friends." You then find out this "friend" is actually your mother, even though your Facebook-attuned partner kindly reminds you in the first groggy minutes of morning.

Rather, this hot-tub time machine of a Facebook/email/texting/Internet- free existence comes straight from a recent conversation I had with a 25-year-old Chicago improviser -- in a troupe called Old Smuggler with my very Facebook-attuned wife. He marvels at the fact that we married at 24, after dating since 21. He is equally impressed that we two crazy kids did it all in world without the cornucopia of relationship-facilitating tools brought to you by Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and those two Google guys whose names no one really remembers (unless you google the term "Google Founders").

Now imagine the following conversation, punctuated by what seemed like 23 text-messages for the young man, all presumably from his girlfriend. She waits with anticipation by her smart-phone keyboard for a signal -- any signal -- that her man cares enough to send her a slurry of personal messages capped by an expressive series of emoticons. :) :>

Improviser: So you two really met before all of this?

Me: Yes, we met at the school newspaper (Penn State's Daily Collegian). I often visit the building to type my school papers because no one has personal computers. Well, no one except for a subset of functionally illiterate, beer-swilling frat boys who pay their poorer brothers to write their papers for them in a style that could credibly ape their largely uniformed slobbishness.

Improviser: Wow. That's like living in the time of King Arthur. Or Marky Mark.

Me: And get this, we don't even really have email. Not in the way you have email. This thing -- so new and strange to us -- is not based on clicking a mouse or pressing a tablet screen, but works on ancient "tube" machines that you've never even seen. We have to type commands, you dig, entire phrases such as "^R Read File," in order to make the sickly green text appear against the stark black screen.

Improviser (laughing): Crazy.

Me: If you receive 10 emails a week, you are a serious Internet figure. Spam is still a depression-era meat-like-product you don't want to eat, and also a Monty Python sketch that your last girlfriend thought stupid.

Improviser: How do you two know where to find each other?

Me: We don't. In our first months we see each other every couple days. If I called her and she isn't around, well, I leave a message with her roommates. That message may or may not have find her in a timely fashion. Then, I just go back to whatever I am doing. This can go on for days.

Improviser (in disbelief): Seriously?

Me: When we catch up, often at the end of a day that seems longer than the days do now, when I might wander over to her apartment to see if she is home, not knowing, mind you, where she might be... we have all sorts of things to talk about. That's right -- talk about -- because we can't text every time we smile at the thought of each other's smile or eat a good lunch in the dining hall or barely pass a Chemistry test or decide that the best way to spend the afternoon will be to skip our 1000-person Psychology 101 course and work on beating the arcade game Arkanoid II on only one quarter... which reminds us that pay phones used to take quarters, but the only game they offered was "community germpool."

Improviser: Wasn't this all somehow liberating?

Me: Perhaps. Consider the many ways you need to check in with your social network and the all-seeing, almost totalitarian power of the text message. Yes, communication is all-but-instant, but so is observation: the one-way mirror glass of the observer as the entire network, and the observed -- you -- exposed in your movements and activities and the public persona of your thoughts and feelings. Just imagine if those people behind the Verizon network guy would simply vanish.

Improviser: Are you suggesting we somehow return to this place of pre-social networking, a non-Facebook Eden?

Me: Hold on.

Improviser: What?

Me: Wait a second.

Improviser: What?

Me: (phone buzzing). It's my babysitter, texting.

Improviser: I have a text, too!

The improviser fades into the mass of people milling about the theater lobby.

Even though my wife is somewhere in the same room, but where?, I quickly text her: "we must leave,"

I stare at my screen for the reply, and hope, in a short burst of auto-corrected characters, to find her once again. :-(