So the other night I’m typing away on my fancy high-tech computer and a tiny blank box I’ve never seen before pops up at the bottom right corner of my screen. It says “From: Seattle Guru” and then, “Hi MOV! How are you?” Seattle Guru is my blogger friend who lives in Seattle. I am startled by this mini-email and, being the extreme technophobe that I am, am not quite sure how to react.
The tiny box is insistent: “MOV, are you there?”
How does the tiny box know if I am here or not? Is this like George Orwell’s 1984 coming true?
A few seconds go by. Then a blinking cursor by the words: “Can you chat?”
I lean in close to the bottom right of the computer screen. I whisper, “Okay, sure.”
I am not sure where the microphone must be, or if I even have it turned on properly. I lean in closer, clear my throat, and say, “Sure, I can chat now. I CAN CHAT.”
The Husband walks upstairs to the study. He is balancing a bowl of pretzels on top of his glass of water. “Who are you talking to?” he asks, puzzled.
My face is very close to the base of the computer screen. “Uh, I think I’m chatting with my friend in Seattle,” I offer lamely.
“Is your phone on speaker?” he eats a pretzel.
“Is that how you do it? Do I have to hook my phone up to it somehow?” I pick up my phone and start looking for a way it might attach to my computer.
“What?” asks The Husband, perplexed.
“What?” I ask him back, equally perplexed.
“Are you on the phone?”
“I’m on the computer.” I shrug.
“And the phone?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Who are you talking to, though?”
“I was trying to chat.” I point to the screen.
He takes another pretzel and chomps it between his teeth. “Oh, cool … uh, do you know how to chat?”
“No. I guess not.” Defeated. “Do you?”
“Of course. It’s easy. You just type back to them, then hit enter.”
“That’s it?” I say, astonished.
“Yup,” he takes a swig of water, “that’s all there is to it.”
I get hooked on the whole chatting thing pretty quickly. I learn that if there is a green dot next to my friends’ names on the left of my screen, that means their computer is on and hooked up actively to the internet. It does not, however, necessarily mean that they want to chat with me right now this instant. They could be doing something else important. Like work.
Since this is a completely new realm for me, my expertise on the proper etiquette for chatting is non-existent. I view chatting like a very large party. I see a green dot (someone I know is at the party), and so I want to go over and talk to them. Right now!
Who cares if they might be in the middle of writing their master’s thesis or sending an urgent email to their accountant or finding a cure for cancer. Green dot= talk to me!
Like my seven-year-old son who answers the phone, “So are you calling about Club Penguin?” I also do away with superfluous greetings and cut right to the chase. My instant chats begin something like this:
“I was working on my blog, and then Blogger died! Did this happen to you today?” or “Tall was driving me insane at the bus-stop this morning.”
There is no, “Hi Seattle Guru, how’s the weather in your neck of the woods?” or “Kendall, do you have time to chit-chat with me for a couple minutes before you get back to your diplomatic duties in Eastern Europe?” or “Hi M, I would love to chat, you’re not in the middle of a meeting again, are you?”
Nope. No etiquette for MOV in cyberspace insta-chatting.
I start to notice a disturbing trend: when I click on to chat with a friend, the green dot disappears. It’s almost like they’re logging off at the exact second I want to say hi. I wonder why this is.
Are people avoiding me? It’s one thing to avoid me at the drug store or gym if you don’t want to get stuck talking to me for ten minutes, but avoiding me in my own study?!?
The whole concept of chatting is bizarre to me anyway. It’s like when Ferris Bueller starts talking directly to the camera when he is lathering up in the shower. The movie is the movie, and the main character is not supposed to be talking to me. I am not part of the movie.
My friend (Seattle Guru!) informs me that in theater parlance, this is known as the Fourth Wall. The first three walls are the walls of the stage, and the Fourth Wall is the invisible wall at the front of the stage separating the audience from the actors. If an actor breaks character and addresses the audience directly (as in, “Hey, buddy, wanna turn off your cell phone?”) that is referred to as breaking the Fourth Wall.
For me, my computer is the Fourth Wall. I am sitting here in my little corner of anonymity, when all of a sudden, BANG! Someone wants to chat with me, and the Fourth Wall has come crashing down.
I think I’ll put it back up now.