Last night, I went to retrieve Gabrielle’s laundry basket from her room. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, I could hear her chatting happily away and presumed she was on the phone telling her mom about her day. But when I opened the door, I saw she was in her bathroom, an en suite, taking her contacts out.
“Oh, hi,” she said. “I’m just FaceTiming with Chloe.”
Indeed, there sat her phone propped up against her sink. A pretty girl appeared on the screen, looking rather Zen.
“Chloe, this is Tara.”
Realizing I was, in essence, on display for a stranger, I jumped back behind Gabrielle’s bookcase.
“Oh!” I said. “I didn’t realize.”
From my hiding place, I called out: “Nice to meet you, Chloe.”
I started smoothing down my apron, which thank God I had on. I’d had an unfortunate bra chafing incident after an 8-miler earlier in the day and had been forced to wear my tank top “au naturel” for the rest of the night to let the welts settle down.
“That’s my stepmum,” Gabrielle said. “Tara, you can come out now. It’s OK.”
I pulled out from behind the bookcase, gave Chloe an odd military salute out of sheer panic, and booked it out of there.
I’ve been freaked out by FaceTime since the first time I was introduced to it. Initially, it seemed like the perfect solution for someone whose family and childhood friends live so far away. But the first time my best friend Kristin and I connected, I was chagrined to discover that, while I could see her, I could also see myself.
What this thing called FaceTime does to your face is beyond me. Somehow it turns your skin grey and doubles your chin. Any blemish is magnified, your teeth are yellow and have your ear lobes always been that lobey? You can see yourself talk, the way your mouth moves, what expressions you make, and all of it is hideous. Kristin and I lasted about thirty minutes before we were so disgusted by ourselves we agreed to call each other back on the landline.
More than the way we looked, it was how we behaved with the technology. I sat at the table and Kristin sat at her table and we rigidly held our phones up so we could see each other. My arm got tired. My back got stiff. I felt like I had to create this talking portrait of myself. And for this portrait, honey, I should have put on some lipstick.
Above all, I felt terribly, terribly exposed. Exposed and yet restrained.
FaceTime isn’t the only thing that does this either. For example, if you get email through Gmail, it has the capability of telling other Gmail users when you’re online checking your mail. Facebook messaging lets other know when you’ve seen what they’ve sent. The iPhone has a feature that will let a sender know when their message has been read by the recipient.
All of this? To me? Too much information! Like Batman, I want to live amongst the shadows when it comes to deciding when I’ll respond or not respond to an email. I don’t want you to know that I’m ignoring you.
But Gabrielle’s generation is more comfortable with this exposure and sharing their privacy. Chloe had called Gabrielle to get her advice on what to wear the next day. Gabrielle, needing to get ready for bed, didn’t hesitate twice to continue on with her bedtime regimen. It’s nice that they were able to connect that way. It was like having a friend over without them having to leave the house.
But me? I’m not ready or interested, which I suppose is just one more way technology is separating this generation from the one before it. I was reminded just how long that’s been happening while watching the latest season of “Downton Abbey.” In one of the episodes, Lord Grantham concedes to getting a wireless radio to listen to a national address made by the king. While everyone listens to it for the first time, the cook, Mrs. Patmore, leans in to her assistant cook, Daisy, and says of the king:
“I suppose he can’t hear us?”
“No, it doesn’t work likes that.”
Don’t be so sure anymore, Daisy. Don’t be so sure.