It's Alienation Day, tomorrow, in Washingwood! Alienation Day is, perhaps, the most profound of all of Washingwood's holidays: The usual collision of image, power and seduction with the faux personas we create behind the screens and screens of digitalized social media, usually mashed up and delivered to us as "product" i.e., TV/Film and Power Politics is celebrated on this revered holiday.
If this is your first trip to Washingwood, here are the holiday rules: Tomorrow from 8 a.m. through midnight the REAL YOU must be made completely and utterly unavailable to your friends, family, acquaintances, passers-by, local shopkeepers, business owners and all other residents of Washingwood.
Who is the "real you?" Well, see, that's the point. I don't know, and I'm guessing you don't either. Especially if you're waist deep in the last two (three?) generations that live exclusively inside the devices, e.g., computers, smart phones, iPads, Upads, WeAllPads, utilizing all the social media available to create your persona, and, as such, creating the human being we know as "you." By point of example, a recent, and grossly unreliable survey [conducted by your author] in Washingwood revealed that the majority of Washingwooders are so alienated from their "real you," that they cease to even acknowledge the reality of such a being.
I recently spoke to a gentleman named Tim 253 (yes, Tim 253 is his real name, as parents in Washingwood are now naming their children based on potential email/social media user names. For more on this subject see the [recently published] book, targeted for parents, clueless as to what to name their newborns: I'm Sorry, That Name Is Taken: Please Choose Another), written by Washingwood's own noted therapist Dr. Psyched2Shrink. Tim 253 explained both the anticipatory joy and anxiety that Alienation Day embodies.
"Alright, so, look," Tim 253 began. "I love Alienation Day. I mean everybody hiding our real self behind the personas we've created. But it's nerve-wracking ."
"Why is it so nerve-wracking?" I asked. "I've heard the same thing now from so many people."
"Because," Tim253 explained. "I always feel like I don't have as many personas as I need."
"How many personas do you need?" I asked.
"You can never have enough! See, like, people who know me, know that Tim253 is this, like, half-slacker, half-intellectual rebel who could care less, except secretly cares a lot about the important things. I mean that persona took me years to build. I started that one during the MySpace days."
"So are you that guy? The guy you just described? Half-rebel, half slacker, etcetera," I inquired.
Tim253 looked at me like I was a crazy circus clown.
"I don't really understand the question. Am I that guy? I don't know. Who cares? What does it matter?" he said.
"It matters," I attempted to explain, "because when someone meets you, their expectation of you may not meet the reality of you."
"The reality of me?! There is no 'reality of me.' Expectation is the new reality."
I ponder that for a bit, then asked:
"Do you think that people do all of this, you know, create personas on Facebook and such to avoid being vulnerable?"
Tim 253 stared at me, puzzled. " I have no clue. Vulnerable? I'm five personas away from 'vulnerable'. I mean, what is 'vulnerable'?"
"You don't know what the word means?" I was a bit shocked. Tim 253 is working toward his doctorate in Inherited Wealth Sciences and was, I presumed, rather well-educated.
"No, I think I know what it means," he said, unconvincingly. "Like when you... feel... things? Feel things that may, like what? Uh, hurt you or...?"
I spared him the agony. "Yes, that's basically it."
He sighed in relief. "Okay, then. No, "Tim 253 said, "I don't feel 'vulnerable.' Although, I admit that a few years ago, this chick I was dating, really hurt one of my persona's feelings. That stung like a bitch."
"Explain. Please," I asked.
"Okay, so I thought that I didn't have enough outdoors-guy stuff in my persona. I figured mountain-climbing would be good. So I did some work on Photoshop. In less than 20 minutes, my ass was on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, I was on top of Mount Annapurna, South, and I don't even know where the hell that's even located. Anyway, there I was high-fiving another persona-- who was that dude? Oh yeah, that was Rockclimber4ever . Really nice guy. Great persona. Never met him. Anyway I had an album of pics on photo-trough with me high-fiving, fist-bumping other mountain climbing personas on the peaks of these really awesome mountains. But then...I overreached. I said I climbed Mount Everest. Turns out this same girl's persona had climbed Mount Everest and--."
"Wait, wait!" I interrupted. "So she really climbed Mount Everest? I mean her actual body climbed Mount Everest?"
"Oh I have no idea," Tim253 explained. "What does it matter? Anyway, her persona had made the climb and she knew her stuff. We were in a Facebook chat and she asked me how I did the Hillary Step. That's the forty foot wall like thing that leads to the summit--."
"I know what it is," I said.
"Yeah? Well I didn't. So quickly shot over to Wikipedia, but the article was so long it took me like eight seconds to get the answer. And spending eight seconds backing up your persona is, like, forget it. It's over."
"So you broke up?"
"Yes," he said, sadly. "And her persona was so hot! She was, like, this 25 year old ex-super model, turned spy for British intelligence, and then got really jaded, quit MI-6, and spent her time climbing mountains."
"But you didn't really believe all that, did you?" I asked. "I mean, a 25-year-old super model recruited to spy for the UK who climbs huge mountains? Come on!"
"Damn right, I believed it!" Tim253 explained. "See, part of one of my personas is 'really trusting, not cynical.' So I had to believe it."
I stared at him for a beat.
"Tim253?" I asked. "When did this all start for you? The persona thing..."
"Okay, here's the deal," he said. "I created my first persona in 1995 when I was 8-years-old. I guess I'd been putting it off and my folks were getting pissed. One day, my Mom exploded. She was all like, 'Tim 253! Get that room of yours cleaned up and create your goddamn persona or you're grounded!'"
"She really said that?" I asked.
"Yeah," Tim 253 said. "So I created my first persona, a couple of hours later."
"And what was that persona? Where was it created?"
"Oh this was before Facebook and MySpace. Maybe before Friendster. It was the one the government admitted it was using to collect data on people...?" he said.
"Oh! You mean ISP? Intrusive-Spy-Pal?" I asked.
"Yeah, that was it. Intrusive-Spy-Pal. Anyway, my folks were really proud. I created a great eight-year old persona. I was 'into sports, taking guitar lessons, thought girls were weird,' that kind of stuff." He seemed flooded with good memories.
"So," I enquired. "What sports did you play--."
"What? None. No sports!" he said. "None of that was ... what did you call it? Real. That was just my eight-year old persona. I could care less about the guitar, I guess I played kick-ball at recess when the teachers made us play kick-ball at recess, and I didn't give girls much thought. See, that persona was directed to the friend-set I wanted to have. I didn't have a lot of friends in grade school and my parents correctly determined the reason I didn't was because I hadn't created my persona yet. But the persona I ended up creating helped me win a lot of friends with similar interests."
"Yeah, I made good friends with a bunch of kids my age, from a bunch of different schools, who also loved sports, played the guitar and so on. My best friend at that time was a kid named HockeyGuy1212. We used to hang out all the time--."
Wait," I interrupted. "When you hung out with HockeyGuy1212, didn't it become clear that you didn't play the guitar and weren't into sports?"
"No!" Tim253 said. "When I say 'hung out' I mean, you know, online. We only met a couple of times in person. Secondly, when I finally met HockeyGuy1212, he turned out to be a she, but it didn't really matter because she wasn't into sports or guitar, either. I guess the only difference we had was that she didn't think girls were weird, because she was one."
I felt dizzy. This was all overwhelming. Not the fact(s) of the matter as much as the ease at which Tim 253 presented these facts. Sun comes up, sun goes down, HockeyGuy1212 is an eight-year old sports loving, guitar playing guy, HockeyGuy1212 is no-sports, no-guitar girl. Tim 253 misread my confusion.
"Yeah, I know." He said. "It messed with my head at first, too. But it just turned out that HockeyGuy1212 had created this awesome persona. Anyway, from then on, I had to kind of build on my persona, right?"
"Okay," I said. "So you did... what?"
"Well, by my mid-teens, and this was after MySpace, during the Facebook period, my persona was a point guard for the High School basketball team, uh, let's see, oh yeah, my persona dumped the guitar and started making beats. My persona started rapping to those beats. Then when I got into college, my persona started blazing a lot, it took on a bit of the rebel..."
"So you smoked weed and were rebellious? Well that's pretty common."
"No! What aren't you getting?" asked a frustrated Tim 253. "There's not a rebellious bone in my body. I'm all about rules. And weed and I don't get along. It makes me feel, I don't know, like... it just makes me feel, okay?!"
"Okay, okay. Calm down," I said gently. "So what's the problem? Everybody's getting ready for Alienation Day tomorrow, there's going to be a parade, a carnival, I mean it seems like it's going to be fun, right? You've just got to sharpen up your personas and have a good time, right?"
"I guess so," Tim 253 said, quite unconvincingly.
I waited a moment. I just had to ask.
"You don't know who you are, do you?" I asked.
"Yes, " he said defiantly. "I'm Tim 253. I'm getting my Ph. D. I'm into sports, music--."
"No, Tim! The real you!"
He look utterly horrified.
"The 'real me?' I... don't... know," he stuttered. "What difference does it make? Nobody knows who they really are. Nobody cares."
"They used to, Tim. They used to."
Not wanting to leave Tim 253 on down note, I strove to dredge up some happy memories.
"So tell me, whatever happened to HockeyGuy1212?" I asked.
Tim 253 smiled. "I married her!"
"That's great!" I said.
"Yeah, she hyphenates her name. She's now HockeyGirl12-253. Oh, and we're about to have a little one, too! She's due in a couple of months."
"Wow. That's tremendous news! Do you know if it's a boy or girl?"
"Uh," Tim said, casually. "It's persona is a girl. Me and HockeyGirl argued about that for a while. I gave in."
"But what if it's a boy? I mean... for real?"
"Then," Tim 253 said. "I guess he's in for a shitload of problems, right? I mean, he'll figure it out and create the right persona."
Tim suddenly jumped up. "Damn! I'm gonna be late!" he said, panicked. "I'm going to a concert tonight. The Stones 75th Reunion Tour. I heard they defibrillated Keith for it."
"Should be great," I said.
"I don't know. I'm not really going--."
"Your persona is, right?"
"Right, " he said. "So I've got to be unseen for a few hours."
I smiled and walked away, baffled as always. Suddenly something Tim253 said came jumping back at me. And what he said seem to make the whole thing comprehensible. At least for the moment.
Expectation is the new reality.
I guess so, Tim253. I guess so.
But I fight on. Care to join?