The name of this column, “Full Time, All the Time” refers to the nature of my mobile and digital work life. It’s a nod to the fact that I’m always available and never quite free, thanks to the Internet. But it isn’t just my professional life that has been changed forever by my virtual lifestyle. My personal life has been both blessed and cursed by the far-reaching tentacles of the web.
In 2007, J. and I stopped being friends.
She called less frequently. When I called, she had other plans. We went from spending hours together every week to having awkward run-ins a couple times a month. It came to a head, as these things do, one summer night on my front steps. We both cried. We contemplated what had happened. We swore we meant the world to each other. We didn’t say out loud what we knew: it was over.
I went on with my life and she with hers. We waved if we passed one another on the street and caught up if we found ourselves at the same social gatherings, but mostly we mourned (or didn’t) our relationship in our own life streams. We moved on.
In 2012, the business of breaking up is much different.
She called less frequently. When I called, she said she was busy. But when I got online, I saw that she was not too busy to interact with her other friends. I watched as she found time to make new ones. I had a front row seat on the outside as new jokes and storylines developed on the inside. Our emails became shorter and our phone calls less sincere. It came to a head, as these things do, one autumn night over email. I don’t know if she cried, but I did. Neither of us had the guts to ask what had happened. We swore we meant the world to each other, but the email thread was crystal clear: it was over.
I went on with my life and she with hers. My dad got very sick, very fast, and she sent me an email offering her condolences and loving thoughts. When he died the next day, I didn’t hear from her, and it hurt because I knew she’d seen my blog posts and status updates. I came home and struggled to move on, and I watched as she seemed to sail happily into her new future without me.
The Internet has changed everything.
It lets me work from anywhere and make connections with people from all over the world. It gives me freedom and a chance to build a life that literally could not have existed when I was taking those “what career are you best suited for” tests in high school.
It’s also changed the rules and expectations of relationships. When two people live online, there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on in each other’s worlds. Facebook also gives us a dangerous illusion of keeping in touch, when really we are touching so many people at once it’s easy to forget that we haven’t actually made contact with our inner circle. When things are good, we have dozens of channels by which to poke and joke and bond. When things are bad, the Internet serves us up a 24/7 lie, a world without tears or regret displayed through a funhouse screen.
The Internet and social networks have replaced the need for physical proximity while removing the buffer of distance that once let us lick our wounds and heal. And what happens in between the meeting and the mourning has been completely altered, but there are still no maps for that new terrain. It’s difficult to find the balance between pinging and connecting, between feeling like you’re putting it all out there and realizing that there is just so much out there.
It’s kind of a mess. I’m kind of a mess, clearly, and I’m loving the Internet for all it has given me and hating it for all it has corrupted.