Where there is a place to go online there is a place online to go.
Google is its usual flat rainbow of primary colors today. No holiday, no inventor’s birthday. I go to Facebook where I can see my family; Bernie and Hillary are there, and the silent screams of fingers heard around the web are there. I’m home, alone, always without a passenger on this trip, eating the same thing I always eat: what I bought from the grocery store in my town, because there’s no food out here, just what you bring along. But you can find all the ways to prepare it here. If it’s raining where I am, then it rains whether my mind’s eye is in Greece with the refugees, or at the doctor’s office of WebMD, or learning about California’s drought in the LA Times.
A few weeks ago, on a Thursday night, I sat on my floor, steadying the dry slip of the laptop on my lap and went online. Like a spotlight on an empty stage, the screen’s light turns the room around me black and I forget this place.
Ten minutes in, I’m looking at the big brown eyes of a friend’s baby on Facebook, handing me flowers. Next, or simultaneously, I enter a story titled “Does Running Make You Smarter?” I’m looking at a menu dozen health articles, and the banner above the text with illustrations of food, of people in action, of microscopic bacteria, lined up like a deli case. I can feel my legs get a little antsy, like they want to run.
I open the laptop often without an itinerary or place in mind — I had never thought about the effects of running on intelligence. I have water, and enough battery power to get me a few hours. Then I allow my eyes to dart around the screen and my mind is ready — or not — to be detoured.
My eyes rise to the headlines of violence that Thursday night though, like how Mt. Hood’s towering snowy peak lassos the eyes while riding on Interstate 84 East. It’s a terrible place tonight, in spots, but I don’t leave the internet because there is no real danger.
Starting at my email inbox, my home base, a news alert sits in a white strip at the top of my inbox. Four Dallas police officers have been shot, during a protest for the two black men shot and killed this week by police officers. I click and open the email. The news is obviously just in, there is not enough info there yet, informing us mostly that there will be a lot to learn soon. So I go to the Times homepage, nothing to pass on the way as I stay for the loading process, the circling blue line on the Times tab at the top of the screen, indicating that I am still in motion, revving the engine at the light. Then I am there in two seconds.
I jumped into the moving image of a drained lake in Bolivia, a story about Climate Change. The bottom of the empty lake looks like a turtle’s shell. The featured graphic always stands out in these fields of headlines like an ad on that building in New York’s Times Square — tourists walking with heads tilted up. Wikipedia transfers me to One Times Square — the building I am thinking of. It’s almost totally vacant, Wikipedia tells me, except for a Walgreen’s.
The story of the Dallas Police Officer is developing to the left of the Climate Change story. The info is piling up, it’s a storm on horizon. Still not much information.
It is sensation-less weather, caused by sensationalizing.
How to write a travel article of the internet? It’s the only form of travel I do except to and from work. We spend a lot of time in this unmappable place, inventing the geography, loving, and fantasizing, warring within psychic connection. What is the weather? I can wear anything. What are the elements out here? Information, connection, code, propaganda. A tumultuous comment section is a storm. It is sensation-less weather, caused by sensationalizing. It never feels lovely, or cool.
On Facebook I see the faces of 15 friends from High School, that I haven’t seen in ten years. I am in a gallery of life’s moments, high school hallway memories: It’s all for the taking. When I first came here, it felt strange to see these people again, but now their faces are as familiar as their teenage ones. Facebook has become the freeway of my internet exploration, since I first joined a year ago, because it seems like it’s where everyone is, merging on and off the freeway ramps to one avenue of media or another.
Facebook is a city and I scale its skyscrapers on the outside, because I never post. I look through the windows of each floor. No one is inside. No one climbs the exterior with me in the open wind. But the rooms are filled, they fill as I climb, furnishing and decorating as I watch. I climb in silence, watching the interiors form and fall away, the anger, and gratitude, nostalgia and sex, hollering with each step. I go all the way to the sky, and there is no view behind me. Maybe I’m too high to see anything outside of what’s behind the glass. And I always let go way after I first think I should. Nothing cushions a fall that never happens. The skyscraper crumbles as I stay suspended in air, I forget everything.
At this point, I look over the screen at the room. Everything is the same. One glance back down and I see my friend’s baby again, offering flowers. Her caption says something about there still being beauty in the world.
If Facebook is the freeway, I want to find the wild stretches of grass. Looking to the side of the screen, the room around me glows in warm light. All day I wait to get home, to go back out again here. Five tabs are open at the top of my screen, like windows of houses with the shades down. A Craigslist tab — I’m looking for a new job change, a chance to participate. A Portland State University Tab — another reach to participate, to go back to school.
I watch the Facebook video and meet Lavish Reynolds. Her boyfriend was beside her in her car as he was shot and killed by an officer. She live-streamed it on Facebook.
I go there, to her car where she is speaking. You can hear the officer scream in the background the moment after he shot her boyfriend. It’s a long grunting wail. His is the voice that stings. I believe in her voice, in its even tone. There is pause. There is peace. In his, there is fucking turmoil. It’s as if it’s all been of no consequence up to this point. I cringe hearing it a second time. He knows an absolute thing, despite reiterating his commands, because now it exists in the bottom of this stomach and he is belching remorse, disbelief, and horror. In that moment he sees how easily lives cannot matter, to him or anyone else. Lives just are or they aren’t.
My computer’s search line knows Alton Sterling’s name, one of the men killed that week. It fills it in before I can finish typing. Tonight’s trip is not the aimless swerving session it usually is. I follow the specific maze of these latest headlines, of the shootings.
There is one op-ed that I return to the New York Times to read. A black professor has written it, Michael Eric Dyson. He is addressing white Americans, pointing out our ignorance of the plight that plagues 40 million black Americans.
There is a sensation of my head hitting the white screen. I see myself doing it. I think I accept the cap of my understanding. But I feel like a dog on a taut leash wrapped around a pole pushing forward futilely. All the information and yet the distance is great. A video of “puts you there” in Lavish’s car. Her pain becomes the screen’s glow in a private home. I don’t know this public danger. I don’t know how to express empathy other than to watch. I think of all the grimaces I see on people walking down the street, they look like they’ve been stretched into place over years of shit I don’t know about. I can target my pain, grief. I don’t know what it is to be a target.
I stop surfing. Because I find myself scrolling through Facebook too fast to stop and read anything. And I’ve been sitting on the floor so long my ass is numb.
The next morning, it is the aftermath of a storm.
Featured Image by Noel N. aka The Graphic Media.