Abandoned in Public

I met a stranger yesterday.

Her fine strawberry-red bangs stop short of warm, but dull eyes. The stress of managing a midtown eatery has created crows-feet that age her far beyond the 28-year-old facade her trim figure and hip clothing convey. Her hands smell like strawberry-kiwi sanitizer.

She gulps down two cotton-candy blue Valiums to calm her nerves every morning with a cup of Starbucks expresso. Although she has an enviable collection of red-bottoms, her phone beeps with an alert from the bank — it’s payday but her account is still overdrawn. She likes to listen to Adele.

Jane Smith hasn’t spoken to me, nor even seen my face, but I know who she is.

I found her purse laying in the gutter at the corner of Peachtree and 10th. A crumpled ATM receipt, worn prescription bottle, hairbrush, tattered concert ticket stub, i.d. badge, bundle of credit cards, iPhone and nearly empty sanitizer bottle — together told a story. Each item revealed more about her. Probably more than she would have shared with me during a lunch date.

Despite not having her tell me about herself, those possessions spoke for her. I learned who she is and aspects she would have perhaps preferred left unknown.

Jane left her valuables on the street, leaving it available for anyone to pry open and examine. I’m sure later that day as she reached for her purse, she stifled curses as the realization of its absence smacked her empty hand.

I fear that society has become comfortable leaving personal information for not only the public, but also corporations and the government to probe and examine. And it will too suddenly panic and regret leaving behind what should have remained clenched as tightly as a purse.

The digital age is a savior to many. The environmentalists laude it for saving trees. The government praises it for saving money. The corporations love it for creating money. The public craves it for its utility. To do otherwise, is to be labeled an old fogey and not progressive.

In the interest of convenience and efficiency, digitization is encouraged. Don’t speak, text. Don’t fax, scan. Don’t talk, chat. Don’t file, e-file. Don’t laugh, “ lol.”

Whether it’s submitting a paper via Blackboard for a class, receiving bank statements to your email, paying Uncle Sam via Turbotax, downloading the latest pop release, or ordering a best-seller from Amazon, the ubiquity of anything and everything digital is inescapable.

It has become so ingrained and reflexive to enter that inevitable pop-up form asking for your name, email, address, location, mother’s maiden name and more blah… Then, pretend read the ten point font, cramped and condensed legalese of “Terms and Conditions,” click “Accept” and commence with quickly accessing your heart’s desire from within the infinite digital world.

Today, we are living the SIMS reality. The SIMS, a life-simulation game that debuted in the early 2000s quickly became an obsession for both hard core gamers, and game virgins in the same way Farmville has recently. Everyone may not be a gamer, but everyone has an avatar.

We date online. We shop online. Arrange doctor appointments online. File taxes online. Even child procreation is only a click away. “Buy donor eggs!” shouts a listing from Craigslist. There is a whole online persona that each of us has that exists online. Put all the passwords, Facebook photos of party mayhem, impulse purchases for clothing, foursquare check-ins, concert tweet mania, ebay window shopping  and relationship statuses together — we come alive digitally.

I don’t need to need to meet Jane Smith. I already met her. Just follow the electronic trail.

*Op-ed inspired by writing prompt, Jane Smith fictional*



image by: DonkeyHotey

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