I said this all years ago. Alas, nobody listened. I even wrote a little sci-fi ditty. Internet connectivity addiction. Yes.
There was something in the air that night. Something wild and unborn. Something, that with great effort, could be personified. Perhaps. Maybe there were not enough adjectives available in our language to do so. Some may have guessed, initially, it was a stirring eroticism. They would have been wrong.
It was acute at dusk and undeniable by midnight. It was mixed with the onset of summer; the first night that all the windows were left open overnight. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been. A dormant discomfort had been tapped on the shoulder. A potential energy aroused to kinetic. It was the precise moment when hobby turned to habit and habit to need and need, well, that was just the precursor of what happened next.
Funny thing was, it was all pandemic long before anyone acknowledged its presence. Marlo Kennedy had first seen it in the eyes of her husband years ago. Beneath the iris’s she once knew was something new altogether.
The newscaster himself scoffed at the report. Even blushed as the teleprompter churned such bologna over. How could a distinguished reporter, with a degree from Brown and two perfect strings of once-braced teeth, possibly regurgitate the garbage in front of him?
A connectivity addiction was what Channel 10 first coined it. A crutch similar to what we know of nicotine and methamphetamine. An insatiable leaning on the wired and the wireless in order to escape had led to a suicide in White Plains, NY.
A resident psychologist babbled and spewed theory and hypothesis after theory and hypothesis. What the world wide web had done to the whole wide world.
“What a tangled web we weaved indeed,” she quipped. Then she cited journals of little relevance and eventually Marlo’s reclined and under-stimulated husband Alex, clicked the report off and out of his peripheral knowledge.
Before sharing his disdain for what he had just heard to his counterpart merely a chair over, he first summoned his phone. He jammed on its keys and scrolled its button with ferocious muscle memory.
‘Likely typing his close-minded mockery to a colleague’, Marlo didn’t dare say.
Finally, Alex scoffed just as Peter Laurel of Channel 10 news did, with less cover up.
“Can you imagine! An addiction to connection! A conniction!”
At this joke, he was proud of himself. A joke Marlo knew her dad would have strung together at a stale dinner table. A joke only as funny as it ought to be by its own author.
Marlo tried to bite her tongue. She clung to the comment for dear life. It pelted at her lips and finally won.
“Well you do have quite the sexual relationship with the web dear, maybe the rest isn’t that far behind,” she did dare say.
Alex stopped laughing. But only for a moment. As though he didn’t hear her at all, he rewound back to his own joke and carried himself away with amusement.
The report by Peter Laurel and the psychologist and all of Channel 10 news whistled through the trees that night while Marlo contorted her body in new ways to find sleep. She invited every other thought to take residence in her brain. None obliged. She thought of her own commentary on the report and today’s underworld view of pleasure. No peep shows, no raspy and willing voices over a hotline. Instead fragmented pieces of computerized intimacy. No sweat, no warmth, no pheromones. Just naked robots on the reciprocal end of a web address. Sad really.
Marlo wondered why the man in White Plains had really taken his life today. And how could anyone diagnose the reason? Wires in his autopsy? Head phones that reached his brain? Marlo fell to sleep by counting hyperbole’s backwards. Sheep were useless.
The day after the night with something in the air, twelve more suicides dotted a map on Channel 10 News. As though geography was a key they could turn.
Peter Laurel wasn’t laughing anymore. No. Now he wasn’t some second-rate anchor for a hack station. Now he had had the lead in a savory story the whole country was enamored by. After all, he reported connection addiction first. Even though Channel 4 News was calling it ‘Obsessive Information Disorder’. Semantics really.
Peter smoothed his hair and delivered a meaty bone of journalism to his salivating audience, quite stoic when describing the grim details. This was, after all, his job.
For the second night in a row, Alex sped-typed his jeering to co-workers. The water cooler, had they had one, would have been swarming with naysayers come morning.
“Honey, hurry I need information!” Alex laughed so juvenilely he actually kicked his heels on the recliner.
Marlo decided to refrain. She needed air. An escape from Peter Laurel’s dark excitement in numbers and her husband’s blindness to his own ailing.
She offered half a sneer for her husband’s sake and grabbed a ring of keys from a countertop. With that, she headed for nowhere specific.
It was chilly out that night, despite what had seemed like summer the night prior. She stuffed herself into a jacket and pulled the neck above the bottom half of her face.
As only a pair of eyes popping out of a woolen wall, she felt oddly hidden. She stared at every pedestrian walking past and noticed, perhaps for the first time, that not one person lifted their head. Their ears wrapped in colorful wires connected to something, anything. They walked with a robotic discipline as though they would all band together and start chanting in analog unison.
The reports repeated through Marlo’s ears as her eyes darted to each man’s tablet, toy, pad, pod, reader, writer, etc. Everyone plugged in and no one paying attention to what was around them.
Peter Laurel’s voice boomed in Marlo’s reddening ears. ‘Dependency’, she could hear over and over.
The blond on Channel 2 News had gone as far as to say, “The habitual wire we see today has become the umbilical cord; one we do not know how to sever.”
Rita Dudley of Channel 9 News had said, “We have been bamboozled into believing that this ‘network’ lessened our loneliness, (she said while turning and nodding with the other anchor), “almost gave presence to someone on the other end, yet our reliance on it has made us forfeit tangible conversation.”
She had supported her take on just how lonely every man has become in our generation that it riled the rest of the newsroom. Each volunteering their own two cents on how the “mind plague” initiated. How did patient zero come to be?
The reports continued to fire off in Marlo’s head, zipping through synapses, ignited sadly by, reality.
What was the difference between what she looked at on 6th Avenue and a parade of metal men with boxy heads and motherboards for spines? Not much. She pictured rolling over in bed to see Alex’s once muscular back had been replaced and welded over. Repairmen with blow torches hovering over him, finishing him. She almost laughed when she thought it’d do their marriage some good.
Just as the thinnest slice of humor came to the gravely unfunny circumstances, Marlo caught the headline of the paper in a bodega window.
Seventy-Three Dead and Climbing: The Outbreak of Loneliness
Marlo scrounged a dollar and a half from her old coat pocket and ran inside. Seventy-three? That had to be a misprint.
Paper in hand, Marlo marched to the cashier.
“Yes Ma’am. That was this morning.”
“I thought this morning was a dozen.”
The cashier laughed. “A dozen lonely?”
“Ma’am, the paper was printed many hours ago. It’s well in the hundreds now.” He had a twang inappropriate for New York.
Marlo surveyed the counter, simply because she couldn’t meet his eyes. No gum. No lighters, chocolate bars, or minty candies. Instead there were blue-tooths, headphones, zip drives, chargers, battery packs, plugs and cables.
“Where is the candy?”
Marlo felt like she had just recited the wrong phrase from a tour book in another country. What candy? Hundreds were dead?
She rushed over to a bench underneath a bus stop sign and licked her index finger, quickly pawing at the pages. Print news may not have been able to keep up but this was how she was going to get informed. Period.
Westchester County detective has issued a statement saying only, “We aren’t exactly sure what we are witnessing, but we can confirm that these suicides have been in direct correlation with what appear to be outages in the area(s).” Police officials have described the scene(s) to have been in apparent upheaval, almost violent.
Lieutenant Rizzo, who had been at patient zero’s home and two subsequent scenes stated, “At first we suspected a robbery. Everything was broken and strewn around. Computers were smashed, entire outlets ripped out. As we piece this together, we are confident that these were withdrawal symptoms and that no other parties were at the scene(s)”.
Marlo felt like she was going to be ill. Withdrawal? Outages? This was mad. She envisioned the times that their own connections ceased to well, connect. Alex would always cuss and then make a night of plugging and unplugging things. With great concentration, he’d uncoil new circles of wires and replace the old . Marlo never paid any mind.
It wasn’t a drug.
Withdrawal was overboard.
She tossed the paper just as the rain came.
As Marlo walked home, allowing her face to catch the drops of water, embracing them even, she thought of her husband before his current job. Before the internet. She could barely recall it. Those memories replaced by a man who walked in wearing a headset and kept one hand on a fork and one on a phone through dinner. He moved seamlessly from one device to the next, taking a reader to the bathroom and then a laptop to bed. In fact, it was rare that his hand was not connected to connection. She was almost paranoid of what an outage in their area might do.
Just as she approached her front door and fumbled for her key ring, she saw the disarray through the un-blinded window, the smashed laptop on the floor.