Somewhere between 'old hippie' and 'teenage gadget geek' you'll find a huge demographic that basically covers most of the computer-literate spectrum of humanity today. We range from those who lived through land-line telephones with rotary dials to those who wait in long lines on cold, wet days to pay hard earned cash for the next of the long-awaited iThingees. And some of us are one and the same.
We've seen the first through the most recent versions of everything -- the software, hardware, peripherals and apps. We are the people of the paperless account and we acquire our information digitally. While some crave the dirty analog sound of music recorded in days gone past, others download non-corruptible music files and torrents via controlled websites, both legally and illegally.
We are now pirates, gurus, authors, bloggers, thieves, anonymous, hackers, students, victims of fraud, angry verbal mobs or singular voices of reason. We provoke response with our videos and we recycle information as if it were our own original thought. We are rebels looking for a cause and we are the uninspired youth of today's America. We are lonely, desperate and frightened. We are artists and thinkers vying for a split second of the world's attention. We are the children who want more than a bleak vision of the future and we are the clamped, clogged, stubborn will of those who do their best to ensure its bleakness.
But we all have computers and access to the Internet, and this gives us so much more than just an opportunity to partake of the data -- it gives us a way to interact with it.
This is social networking. And where it was once fresh and exciting, filled with promise and the utopian dream of embracing giant planet Earth with a simple keystroke, it has now become -- after several long, technologically social and amazing years -- one cacophonous, noisy, unending explosion of human ego and pandemonium.
Once one reaches past the more deliberate forms of Internet communication (email, Skype, messenger chat) and ventures forth into the broad and almost limitless world of social networking, (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, MySpace and/or many of the social spin-off websites) the experience presents itself as immediately encouraging. Old friends, schoolmates and even family members seem to reunite out of nowhere. Suddenly, there's this virtual place from where you can create a new destiny.
You are no longer alone -- you now own a list of names that you believe are all real people, just like you... and each one of them is a potential friend, although, in the world of social networking, friendship is not relationship-based; it is about having an audience and being an audience. You make friends for entertainment purposes. You don't know it at the time, but that's all you end up being there for. Someone writes something clever, or stupid or inane -- and you react. And vice versa. And depending upon who you are, the presence of your updated words might turn those friends into a throbbing throng of devoted fans, a privileged mob selected to endure your moods and ravings, or perhaps a simple group of folks to occasionally yap with.
Whatever it is, it feels good and it feels good for a long time.
And then... it becomes a lifestyle, an addiction. Facebook and Twitter are now your life. You tweet while you're sitting on the toilet. You notice when one of your hundred or so fans drops off your Tumblr page.
One day, while you're still brave enough to leave the house to grab lunch with a friend, you find yourself discussing the status message of someone that the two of you have in common. Your lunch mate excuses himself for a moment and what do you do? You reach for your phone -- which is fully capable of receiving every possible update from every possible connection on every possible social network -- and check to see what's happening on Facebook, because that bowl of wonton soup will be ever so much more digestible if only you could be sure you weren't missing anything important.
And while you're there, you notice: Only one person liked your status -- and it's your mother. Oh, it's going to be a full day on Facebook, that's for sure.
A few weeks ago, I was forced to go zen. By this, I mean my Internet and phone service got messed up and plunged me into a two-week-long spin cycle of absolutely no social networking. Hell, I couldn't even receive a text or a phone call.
Imagine that? I actually had to use my brain again -- for entertainment! I had to live in the now, create for the moment, experience life without reporting back. I even... wait for it... read a book. It was awesome! I sat on my patio and took deep breaths, knowing that there was no excuse for me to go back in and hunker down by the computer (unless of course I wanted to work on my new novel -- but another day for that).
If there were roses, I swear I would have taken the time to smell 'em.
And it occurred to me: life goes on, whether I'm updating or not. And I go on, whether someone else is... or not.
When my service was finally restored, I cracked open Ye Olde Facebooke. It just wasn't the same, because something in me had changed in that short time away. I still saw the same non-stop complaints, kitty photos, status-go-rounds (you know the ones with the built-in guilt trips: "98% of you will not repost because you suck, blah, blah, blah"), inspirational quotes, etc. Some updates were shared and many were liked... but none of it was enough to keep me interested.
Because, in the two weeks that I didn't participate, I found something else: my life.
I like that. And I don't even have to click a button to make it real.