Social Networking

I woke up. It was colder than it had been the night before. I got up off my mattress on the floor, stepped in my boxers, and slid into my t-shirt on my way to the other side of my small room. I opened the door quietly and pattered to the thermostat of our apartment. On the way, I passed by one roommate’s room. Was surprised to find her awake this early, but not surprised to find her on Facebook, staring at the screen in her pajamas with her hair up.

After silently turning the thermostat up, I went back to my room. Closed my door behind me. It was still cold, and I knew it would be a while before the heat kicked in. I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, so I sat down on my mattress - feeling the springs achingly giving way beneath me - and tried to read some of my book.

I couldn’t focus my eyes on anything and realized I was still too cold to concentrate on the words. In my closet, I found my robe, a pair of oversized gray sweatpants, and some socks that were threadbare like the rest of them. It would all have to do for now.

After seeing what time it was on my digital alarm clock, I figured I could go to the gym a little early this morning. There was nothing else to do in the mostly quiet apartment. I could hear my roommate typing listlessly on her computer through the wall that adjoined our rooms. She would giggle a little here or there, but otherwise, she made no sound.

Completing my morning stretches, I brushed my teeth in the bathroom. Then, I ate a few spoonfuls of Grape Nuts right out of the box and was on my way, trudging through the crunchy snow in my mackinaw, jeans, boots, and red scarf that was way too long.

As usual, there was no one out on the road. I kept my eyes down for the most part, but every now and then I would look up, seeing not a soul, seeing only the empty, white-washed snowy sidewalks and houses that seemed empty. It was a cold day, but I knew no one would be out anyway. They never were, no matter the weather.

There were a few parked cars on my way. You could tell that they had not been driven for at least a few days, as they were all covered in snow. When I passed a house, I would sometimes try to steal a peek inside the windows. But, to no avail: it was as though the entire neighborhood had been hopelessly vacated.

On a cerebral level, I knew that there was an eeriness to it all. To the emptiness. To the absence of life. But, it had happened so slowly, so steadily over time, that on a visceral level I didn’t feel a thing. I just knew it was odd, but couldn’t feel it. It was the way it had been for what now felt like forever. Had there ever been anyone out here along my morning treks to the gym in the snow?

A round ball of brown fur rolled past me, and it startled my empty thoughts. At once, it revealed itself as a lone squirrel. There was a brief moment in which I wanted to greet it, say something to it. But, that would have been silly. He was off and away before I took him in fully. Quickly he lost himself in the dead bushes and white snow. I wondered if he thought about all the missing people, or if he - like me - hadn’t really noticed until it was too late. Conditioned to it.

Got myself to the gym. Took the steps upstairs, unbuttoned my mackinaw after untwining my scarf. Took off my gloves, and signed in up front. There was some music playing low out of the speakers that I never saw in all my months coming here. As was typical, I was the only person signing in. And so I was surprised to find a woman across the way on a treadmill, hoofing without going anywhere.

She was clearly dedicated to what she was doing. And yet the TV was on mute above her - another TV, that was not on mute, was next to me where I signed in. Her neck was craned slightly upward so that her indolent eyes could remain fixed on the mute Oprah looming over her. Her earbuds were firmly installed in her ears and connected by a long, metallic blue filament wire to the iPod blinking and flashing green, poking out of her back sweatpants pocket.

It was then that I noticed that a very young girl - a toddler, really, with flaxen pigtails flowing out of either side of her ovalish head - slumped on the couch before the TV that was on next to the sign-in sheet. I don’t know how I hadn’t seen her previously. But, there she was, face down, earbuds in her tiny ears. The earbuds were connected to a small, bright fuchsia iPhone upon which the girl was ostensibly watching a cartoon of some sort. I could barely see flashes of animated images from the corner of her miniature screen held betwixt her equally miniature fingers.

That there was a TV on before the girl didn’t seem to distract her commitment to her petite phone screen. I said nothing to either she nor her mother, and left to the male changing room, where I sat down on a bench, dropped my bag and my snow wear, and sighed. I thought for a moment, thought of nothing really. Then I took my running gear out of my bag, shoved everything else into an empty locker. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem to leave the locker unlocked.

It was a good thing that the woman on the treadmill now next to me watched Oprah on mute. I always like to read while I’m on a treadmill, doing my uphill power-walk. Helps me to forget about the time, helps me to lose myself in the book so that I don’t dwell on what I’m doing. Makes the exercise go by faster. Every now and then, I would take a break from the book and look up, out through the windows of this, the second story. Once in a while, a car would go by. Or a city truck. Otherwise, it was as empty out there as ever.

The woman next to me never said a word. Never looked over. I had thought about listening to some music myself, but I had long given up that habit. I preferred to read and read in silence. If I had been listening to something, I would have chosen my favorite new band, Hostile Retard. They were the best of the art-noise metal pop genre, and I was reminded of the show of theirs I’d be going to that night. A bit of excitement flitted through me about the HR concert - what would they be like live? - I grinned for the first time all morning, and continued with my book on the treadmill.

I finished up at the gym, walked home in my running gear. It was cold, grey, and wet, but I could handle it now that I had worked up a sweat. My heart pumped, and I felt pretty good. The gym was always a good thing, and I again grew excited by the notion of seeing HR that night. It had been far too long since my last concert. When I thought about it, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had gone anywhere to see live music. Or ... really, anywhere at all. The last party? The last …? Had it been that long? I knew it couldn’t have been more than a few months, but ... No matter. I made it home, my roommates had already left for work - leaving a huge mess from their breakfasts and coffee makings. I cleaned up after them, as I had grown accustomed.

The TV was blaring, so I turned it off, and also turned off a few lights that had been left on for some reason. Though it was grey outside, the apartment took in a great deal of light from the many fogged-over windows that no one here ever bothered to clean.

Finishing up in the shower, I shuffled in my sandals to my room, closed the door, changed into my clothes for the day, and left the apartment - no need to lock the door - on my way to lunch.

There were now a few more cars and city trucks out on the road, but still no one walking except for a couple of bums I passed, who looked down at the ground, and one who was on his cell phone despite the fact that he was, indeed, a bum. Who was he talking to? I wondered. The houses seemed to remain as empty as ever. The sun was starting to come out from beyond the greyness and clouds above us, but there wasn’t anyone around to notice. Anyone who drove by was on their phone, or talked into the Bluetooth installed in their car, or texted even though that was illegal. No one bothered to look up at the awakening sun in the sky.

The sandwich shop was cramped and smelled like yeasty, fresh bread. It was lunchtime, but of course there was no one here to buy any food. Except for me. There were a few flyers up on the walls. The flyers promoted events that had happened months ago, or that had allegedly happened months ago. You could instantly tell they were old, anyway, as they were all faded and some were even a little moldy if you looked close enough. No one had taken them down.

The workers here, all in the same black uniforms with white aprons and black baseball caps, were lost in their various brands of next generation phones. They were texting or watching movies or playing videogames. They did not talk to one another. They merely stood there, like somnambulists, never moving except for the twiddling of their thumbs. Again, I had grown used to this zombie-like behavior so long ago that I couldn’t remember when it had started.

I went up to the counter and looked over the menu up above the workers. While I glanced over the various sandwiches and sides, I thought that maybe a worker would look up and ask me if I was ready to order. But, it never happened. Only when I myself initiated conversation by asking for a roast beef on wheat with no onions and light mayo did one of them nod his head imperceptibly. He would not look up from his texting.

One of the other workers - eyes fixated on his phone - turned slightly and grabbed a pre-made sandwich wrapped in white paper behind him. He gave it to me, I handed him my debit card, and he ran it. He had me sign the paper - without lifting up his eyes to me, and without saying a word. He knew I knew the routine. What point in disturbing his game?

Outside, on my way home through the snow - it was brighter now, so I put on my sunglasses, and it was thankfully warmer but still cold - there were a few people milling about. They, like the workers at the sandwich shop, kept their heads down, their eyes fixed on their phones, their thumbs moving quickly over their keyboards and screens. One person bumped into another - neither had been looking up - and I overheard one of them say, “Mmmmphf.” And that was it.

The sandwich adequately filled me up, I tossed the wrapper into the overflowing trash, and left my apartment for what I assumed would be the rest of the day. I ran a few errands, felt it nice to see a few more people out today than the last few weeks - though no one looked up from their phones - and made it to the public library. A few bums were lying in the snow outside the front entrance, and they were either asleep or smoking infinitesimal joints by themselves. No one spoke with one another, and they certainly didn’t speak to me. Another one was on a cell phone, holding it to his ear, though not talking.

Stepping through the automatic glass doors of the library, I found - as usual - only a few people inside. They were in perfect rows on computers, a few with large, antiquated library earphones over their ears like earmuffs. I had wanted to find a specific book I had been looking for, but was unsuccessful. I went up to an old woman with frazzled hair and tired, bespectacled eyes who was sitting behind the reference desk. She was on the computer, typing away with inhuman speed. I could also overhear someone speaking very loudly and very quickly over the hands-free phone speaker hooked into her ear. She was busy, so I once again let it go.

There was normally at least one other staff member wandering around the library. I went back to where the patrons were sitting on their computers as though on a factory line. I would have asked them where I could find the other library staff member, but on second thought, decided to leave the patrons be. I didn’t want to disturb their intense dedication to the glowing screens inches from their noses. No one spoke, despite their being crowded in line, one next to each other, an occasional elbow touching without notice.

A strange depression began to flow over me. I brightened up a bit with the notion of the night’s HR concert growing closer. I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate and a cookie. I slipped into a nearby coffee shop where I planned to rest and relax with said tasty delights. There were only a few customers there, all on their laptops, most of them watching movies or playing videogames. A few on Facebook or doing some kind of computer programming that would always remain completely esoteric to me.

The problem was the cacophonous noise of the laptops. The keyboard typing was one thing - tap tap tap, rap rap rap. But, it was the fact that most of the folks in here didn’t bother to wear headphones, and those who did had the volume up so loud that it didn’t matter anyway. There was a chaotic, protean noise hurricane that no one seemed to notice except me. The workers behind the counter were nowhere to be found. They were normally in the back, playing on their own computers, or talking with friends on their phones. This was no place for me to relax.

I checked the time, and thought that I could always head home, clean up a bit, and go to the concert early. Maybe catch the opening band. HR would probably have some good openers.

When I got home, I was about to call my girlfriend to tell her we’d be going the concert early. Moments from dialing her number, I remembered that lately - like so many other people I knew - she would only answer to text messages. I texted her, but received no response. I decided to email her, as she was almost always on the computer - even at work - and got back to emails quickly.

Accessing my email, I saw I had a message in my Inbox that had been waiting for me all day. I didn’t recognize the sender, but decided to risk it, and opened the message. Turned out that the HR concert had been cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. I was shocked. Not because of the fact that no one had bothered to call me about this - what if I hadn’t checked my email? - but because HR were the highest downloaded band of the day. At least of their genre.

Now I had to email my girlfriend to tell her we wouldn’t be going at all. I waited for a response, and received none. While waiting, I checked the online news page and found that there was a new social networking site that was about to go live within the next week. I saw that of the 106,378 comments that had been posted about the article in the five minutes since it had gone up, all were positive about this development.