Happy things,

published at 10:11am on 11/25/08

Recently, I spent the day going through old emails when I came across one, from myself, with the subject line “Happy things”

Just like that. No punctuation, first letter capitalized as my mobile messaging device does for me, automatically.

“Seeing people logged in and idle for days at a time over holidays.”

I wrote this to myself two days before Christmas last year. I often write notes1 like this to remind myself of thoughts I may have had, ideas I wanted to commit to paper, things that just made me feel good. This particular thought made me feel good.

I had just logged in to an instant messaging service. I live close to my family, so the holidays are never a time for travel for me. Two days before Christmas, I was most likely blocks from my house, wandering around the city, enjoying the energy that inevitably comes at that time of year. Not since college has the holiday season brought the stress of travel, of waiting at airports and bus terminals, of being with family and not with friends. I’ve never really lived far enough away that the house where I grew up no longer felt like home. In fact, the most holiday travel I have ever done was to pile into the family car (a station wagon, natch) and visit cousins, aunts, uncles or grandparents a couple of hours away.

But so many people do travel for the holidays. It is inevitably the week of December 25th that finds many of my friends taking off from work, packing up presents and a week’s worth of clothing and heading out of town on a train upstate, a plane to California, a bus to Pennsylvania, and all points in between. And much of the time, with the excitement of the holidays, they will rush out of work, computers still on, cursors still blinking, and messaging programs still marking their presence at their terminals. And so it is, days later, that I will turn on my computer and see those names, greyed out, idling on the side of my screen. They will have been like this for days – “38 hours idle, 72 hours idle” – and I will know that these friends are heading home for the holidays, to family and friends, or off on a holiday adventure, away from work, away from their everyday lives.

They will stay like that for days, silently sitting on the edge of my screen until, without fail, on Christmas day, the buddy list lights up again. A few pop on first thing in the morning, before running downstairs to open presents. The rest of the family is asleep, and they are transformed into five year-olds again, waiting, waiting until they can rush under the tree to see what Santa left for them. Or it is mid-morning, the coffee is on, the house is starting to wake up, waffles cooking in the kitchen. Or it is afternoon, and my screen is alive with announcements of gifts given and received, of plans for the rest of the day. Or it is evening, and it is stories of movies watched under blankets with fires in the fireplace, or dinners at Chinese restaurants, because there is nothing else open on Christmas day. And then the day is over, and the final few messages trickle in with greetings and goodbyes and promises to catch up in the New Year.

I love technology and how connected we all feel these days. But in this age of the always-on, it’s nice to be reminded that, at least once a year, everyone isn’t2.

1. I don’t actually write that many physical notes to myself. A long, long time ago, they were notes written on paper, strewn around my desk, taped to my wall, or stuck to my computer monitor. As the technology presented myself, my musings because more mobile. First, when I gained the ability to send text messages to email addresses from my mobile phone, they came in short bursts, mostly lowercase, with no punctuation. When I graduated to a grownup mobile device, with a keyboard and auto-correcting typing software, these notes became sentences, properly punctuated and capitalized. Recently, I found myself standing in a museum, flitting back and forth between two paintings, composing my thoughts on my feelings between the two and emailing those thoughts, directly from my brain, to my fingers, into the device, out to a friend. I could muse on the possibility of a future where these thoughts emerge from my subconscious and are immediately transplanted into the ether for others to consume, but the truth is that this sounds utterly horrible to me. Really, who wants to know that much about anyone?
2. Indeed, the irony that in order to see that nobody is connected, I must be connected, is not lost on me. When this happens, however, I generally smile to myself, make a note that I really should spend less time, and then go out and think about things like this. Which is all very meta I suppose, but it pleases me, so I’ll just go with it.

Filed under: Personal

At 11:51 am on 11.25.08, Danielle said,

On the footnotes:
1. So my mobile device is a permanent adolescent?
2. You know, you could go out to a movie or something.

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