I’ve never been one to deny that I’m an enigma to the core, so it’s never much of a surprise when people who’ve known me for some time don’t exactly have an accurate description of who I am. The theory is that, in maintaining ambiguity and mystery, you remain a step ahead.
At least those are the comforting lies and half-truths used to deflect from the overarching but in-plain-sight conundrum whereby you’re never truly understood. A sly chuckle at each misconception: introvert, quiet, reserved, serious, rigid, conservative. The list progresses along the spectrum of wrong, to ludicrousness, seamlessly.
For these are words I would never use to describe myself, as they are antithetical, harming to my very being, and only through disarming conversation would the true soul emerge. These are the reflections I make as I traverse off the calendar in a few days’ time, as Jamaicans would say, whenever you turn 32.
Another reflection I have is that, while making my own journey to self-discovery as others attempt to define the undefinable, armed with personal experience and my online footprint as their evidentiary file, much of what we understand about other human beings comes from the virtual.
The Olden Days
Technology has so much integrated in the fabric of society that a friendship, and indeed, relationship, can reside solely on the worldwide web. If the internet ceased to exist overnight, all trace of this connection would dissipate. Or that’s the implication in a world where trees fall, no-one hears, and it never happened. And each time I’m playfully derided for my prehistoric age of three decades and one, as zoomers and others from what I call the snapchat generation, somehow believe to be old, I reminisce on the olden days when handwritten letters and cursive were still commonplace.
This is the 1990s. Prehistory.
The world seems to have progressed by an eon’s worth in less than thirty revolutions around the sun. Other young adults grew up in a world so transformed from the one I understood to be my reality when growing up. I never felt deprived as a young boy at my home just outside the now infamous Spanish Town. We’d pull the house limb from limb to find the tennis ball — read booming ball— so that our skin could further melanise and glisten in the raging sun, as we played cricket, football, or whatever outdoor games we could remaster.
Whenever the life force began to exit our bodies, we’d take a break and tuck into our own fifteen dollar box juice and a bun with a slice of delicious processed cheese. In reminiscing, I romanticise, waxing lyrical on what the Snapchat generation youngsters seem to have missed, much as our parents do when they tell of mento, ska, the advent of reggae, walking a hundred and fifty miles to school before the crack of dawn, a strong Jamaican dollar, and everyone greeting cheerfully with a howdy doo.
A New Age
Nowadays, I turn an eye up if a web page takes a fraction more than an instant to load. What bullshit, to be honest. But then I remember a time long ago, or in the first days of Industry 4.0, 23 years ago, when my mother bought me my first personal computer for twenty thousand dollars. Its processing speed was sixty six megahertz. Sixty six. Mega. No wonder a Jive Communications study on customer service expectations revealed millenials to be the most patient generation.
We did haffi wait fifteen minutes for a web page to load enuh.
I marvelled at the hundred megahertz Compaq PC a neighbour had, complete with what I remember to be about 32 megabytes of ram. We’d ask permission to “use” the computer. Windows 3.1 and MSDOS brought many joyous and infuriating moments as I’d strategically delete files, system files included, to make space for Mario Kart, Road Rash, Fuji golf, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem, Wacky Racers, and later, Roms.
Yet, as we peered into with the future with slow computers, command file prompt, and in coming years, dial-up internet, we still maintained real life interactions as the predominant form of getting to know someone. My perception of others could only be shaped by what was said in person, or behind one’s back.
So defining one’s social media presence is, that what happens online supersedes real life. That’s torture for an old guy like myself who can’t be bothered to display more than six pictures on Instagram. Are you actually good looking if the evidence isn’t there on social media? If you haven’t invested into learning the art of angles and filters, you might as well be a troll doll, I’m afraid.
Yet, my generation has learned, and many of us take the lessons of the past as well as those from the now, and play the game, curating our feed to portray our best selves, or better yet, better than our best selves. We must also be versed in lighting, as we’re our own photographers, graphic designers, and downright magicians at times. It’s all about the image and brand.
I mean, like, who was that I saw on the internet last week?
And this is not to cast a side eye on the way earth has churned along in such a short space of time. Neither should the seismic shift in where our selves reside and our personalities and value determined be taken as a violent delight. There’s much to love about a worldwide advertising platform for the human race. Borders are blurred. There’s no wall. Nothing prevents you from shooting for the stars, or at least direct messaging your crush in a parish across the island to have it whipped across from your phone to the object of your infatuation’s inbox in less than a second.
The Point of Intersection
The cataclysm that wasn’t does, though, beg for the interrogation of how spliced generations coexist, as over 30s interact with the Snapchat generation who then must interact with the budding YouTuber generation. There is much overlap as opportunities lie in crossover into each segment, even as many of us shirk it all to remain relative hermits in the virtual space.
I don’t have the answers. Only many questions. Industry 4.0 has been thrust upon a world that continues to figure it out as we go along. Governments dare not miss the technological revolution transporting us to a civilization we dared to dream of as children. Life has sped up before our eyes, threatening to leave those who refuse to bend to its will by the wayside.
The online space has now become the first indicator of who you are and your inherent value, and its mastery presents opportunities inasmuch as deficiencies leaves one confused at their undervaluing. Industry 4.0 permeates at the seams, from the workplace to every interaction. There are many questions for which I do not have answers. I dare say the virtual space is there for the taking for those who would leap fearlessly to exploit its near boundless potential. Good luck.