Hiding Behind the Screen

Hiding Behind the Screen

I’ve been enjoying a nice separation from writing on this site. I loaded myself up with too much stuff this summer and got swamped, and in an effort to find some balance by jettisoning non-essentials, writing got thrown overboard.

I promised myself I’d start writing here again once fall arrived, fall being my favorite of the seasons. (In truth, I’m a sucker for verbal seasons—fall and spring—I find them more honest: they do what they say.) From a calendar standpoint, fall began back in September, so I suppose I’m once again way behind the times.

But I don’t follow the calendar, and traditionally I’ve measured the beginning of fall as the first time I turn on my space heater—that’s when I know that things have truly begun to change.

However, it’s now the end of October and I still haven’t pulled the thing out of the closet, and frankly it doesn’t look like I’m going to need to for some time—the weather folks are calling for a high of 61 again today. Perhaps the space heater isn’t the best measure after all.

There are plenty of other indicators that fall has fallen—it’s starting to rain more here in Seattle, which I welcome: dreary gray skies do this body good, the leaves are flushed and varied and awfully pretty, we’re midway through yet another football season in which the Detroit Lions suck, and a gap-toothed jack-o-lantern is grinning in my window.

All of which means that it’s high time I found something to write about. Fortunately, I work in a restaurant, which means human interactions, and human interactions sometimes lead to the following:

The other night I had a diner complain about a company policy in regards to his bill. We do things a little differently where I work, and he didn’t like it. Fine—this happens. I explained to him the policy and the rationale behind it. He still didn’t like it, which is alright: he’s not obligated to. He asked for the manager and I said, Sure, she’s right over there, let me grab her.

No, I don’t want her to come over, he said. Please just give me her contact information. Her card or something. 

I’m sorry?

Please just give me her email, he continued. Write it down on a business card or something. He eyed me furtively, as if at any moment something terribly traumatic would occur.

She’s right over there, I pointed across the room. She’d be happy to come over and talk with you about this further.

I just want her email, he repeated. I don’t want to talk with her.

Let me get this straight, I said and looked at him. Even though she’s right over there (it’s a small restaurant and the manager I was pointing to was literally 15-feet away), you’d rather email her than talk with her?

Yes, he said.

It’d be too sweeping a statement to say that This is what’s wrong with the world today, but it is a pretty good example of the negative distance technology has enabled. Poor little fella couldn’t handle an actual human interaction, and instead needed to retreat behind a screen to find his voice.

I imagine this man-child went home and composed a strongly-worded email that went something like: To whom it may concern: You will excuse me if I take a strong tone…”and felt tremendously self-righteous upon its completion—I told them, didn’t I!!

As much as he annoyed me—and he did annoy me, this little mighty man behind the curtain of his own great and self-contained Oz, so much so that I wanted to whack him over the head with a badminton racket, and surely someone in his life other than me should pull him aside and give him this simple advice: Grow a pair, I also felt pretty sorry for a grown man who goes through the world in such a tremulous and terrified manner. It’s a sad way to live, afraid of other people and in need of a computer screen to hide behind.

I don’t think this guy was necessarily a jerk, but he was most certainly a giant wuss. Either way, he gets the same punishment every one of us receive—the chance to eye himself in his bathroom mirror the following morning. I imagine that when he does he’s both terrified of what greets him and incapable of finding the proper screen to hide behind once the fright sets in.

(I write the above as someone who spends a lot of time hidden behind a screen, which is to say: I get it: it’s nice and warm and safe back here. You can create a world in which you’re always right, where you call the shots and roll the nickels and determine who does what where when, and the only people who call you out are straw-men you can set fire to, an act that can demonstrate what a powerful fire-god you are. Although there are many benefits to being a fire-god, there are also a couple downsides, including the following: hiding behind a screen is unreal, solipsistic, lonely, and potentially a very self-poisoning place to pass your days. So to this guy: turn off your device and get on out here with the rest of us.)

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