Do you have relatives who are utterly clueless about the Internet? Who, when you try to tell them about some trivial thing that happened there, such as “X number of people visited my blog” or “so-and-so Tweeted that I have a nice name,” have no idea what you are saying? And act a little horrified, like you’re suddenly using casual nicknames for hard drugs? This would be most of my relatives, and especially my parents. I suppose it’s better than having your own mother friend you on Facebook. I don’t understand how anyone can say yes to that request, though I can understand why it’s hard to say no.
When I was little we lived on a farm and didn’t have a telephone. My brother once asked if we could go to “America,” by which he meant the mall. My parents have since moved to Walkerton, a town of about fifty people. They insist that they can’t get the Internet, not where they live, although they get a lot more cable television channels than we do. They were big fans of “The Wire” starting in its second season, which is more than you can say about a lot of people. Several of their six-toed feral cats (my mom calls them Hemingway cats, but they are not as nice-looking as that sounds) are named after characters from that show.
Though my parents will happily stay in $30-a-night motel rooms, I think they are actually afraid of the Internet. Instead of being vague and ephemeral, it seems to exist in an oddly literal space for them. They think it’s a physical place, sort of like a McMansion that someone built on top of a cute old farmhouse. As in, “I Googled you to find your story, and then they said you were in Facebook and I didn’t want to go in there.” I think this is partly the result of a particular class they took last year in computer literacy at my old elementary school. It was taught by my second-grade teacher, whose favorite form of technology, back when I knew her, was cursive.
I’ve tried to tell my mom about some of the benefits she’s missing by not having the Internet—online banking, for example, which frees you from even pretending to balance your checkbook—and I think she’d like Google Earth and Google Images. But then I start to think about all the communities and activities she’d be drawn into:
People who trap, spay, and then pretend feral cats are friendly
Tree of Heaven destruction forums
Mulch fever sufferers
Looking up arrest records of our relatives (she hates that my aunt does this, but I can see her getting into it, too)
International Dark Sky Association (I am actually into this myself)
My mom can spend the better part of an afternoon talking to someone from the butter hotline, where a sweet Southern lady will tell you how to fix a pound cake that came out too dry by poking holes in it and pouring brandy in the holes. Or arguing with public radio that The Capitol Steps are awful and not even a little bit funny (true). Or despairing of imaginary bad smells. Or hiding from stalkers who want her to take yoga classes with them. This suggests to me that her life is full enough without the Internet.
I’ll take some pictures of the “Hemingway cats” for you when I visit Walkerton again. Though I’ll have to wait until I make it back to to America to post them.