Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Laughing Out Loud In An LOL World

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, January 8, 2014, by Sara Jewell Mattinson

On the evening of Monday, December 23, the antenna that connects us to the great Internet satellite in the sky was too coated in ice to function. 
We spent five days without access to the world wide web, making it an old-fashioned Christmas at our home: Lots of snow, heat and power, and no computers.
If the thought of that makes you light-headed, take a few moments to rest your head on your knees. I’ll wait. Because as those five days taught me, the world doesn’t go anywhere. It keeps on updating and tweeting and sharing no matter who is connected or not.
And as I learned upon reconnection, I didn’t miss a thing.
I didn’t need Facebook to tell me what everyone else was doing because they were doing the same things we were: Enjoying their decorated trees, eating a lot of big meals and too much chocolate, opening stockings, taking photos and posting them. 
A few weeks ago, this paper ran an article about how attached we are to our communication devices. According to the latest Rogers Innovation Report, the majority of people with a smartphone say they spend an average of 70 percent of the day with their phone within reaching distance. A quarter of the people surveyed admit to tweeting or Facebooking with someone WHO IS IN THE SAME ROOM.
Which underscores the biggest revelation of the recent wireless-less Christmas: We are all engaged in the same activities. 
Our lives are inescapably similar. We all sleep, eat, drink too much coffee or not enough, we love our kids, we know someone who is in hospital or we are waiting for a baby to be born. We go on road trips, we go on vacations. 
Same, same, same. 
Whether you like it or not. Our obsession with the lives of celebrities suggests we don’t like it. We don’t want to be the same as our neighbours so we obsess about those who live in 12-bedroom mansions, arrive at award shows in limousines and wear beautiful clothes . The lives of celebrities appear glamourous and fun, their bodies are thin and toned, their homes are perfectly decorated, their vacations exotic. We think we want those lives. 
Yet most celebrities are leading or trying desperately to lead quiet, uneventful lives.
Lives like ours.
Lives where you post status updates like, “Spending the day with my fam – so nice!” and “Counting down the days until our vacation next week – Mexico, here we come!” and no one mentions it on Entertainment Tonight.
The kind of lives where you post a photo of you and your kids sitting around a Christmas tree in your matching snowman pajamas and not a single person retweets it.
Not having an Internet connection meant we paid attention to other connections. We paid attention to each other – enjoyed some face-to-face interaction in the same room.  
The break from virtual reality couldn’t last, however, but in order to get our Internet access back, we had to knock the ice off the antenna, an antenna attached to the roof our two-storey home. This involved duct-taping two broom handles together and hanging out my office window. I wore my snowpants protection again the cold but also for padding.
My mother’s job was to hold my legs while I leaned out and whacked the antenna with the double-barreled broom handle. 
“What if you slip out of your snow pants?” she asked. “You’ll fall to your death and I’ll be left holding empty pants.”
Her voice got squeaky and she started to shake. Her grip on my legs loosened.
“Mother, this is not the time to start laughing uncontrollably,” I said.
A few hours later, a rep from our Internet service provider called, responding to my email about no connection. When I explained how we fixed it, she laughed. 
“I’m picturing a Lucy and Ethel moment,” she said. 
She was still laughing when I hung up the phone.
You can’t do that with a text or a tweet. 

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