Five Times I Thought Technology Would Save Me from Myself (and Some Footnotes)

By Yuvi Zalkow

A drawing of a stick figure curled up beneath a speech bubble reading, “feelin’ fine”

1. When I was 11 (back in 1982!), my dad brought home a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer (aka: “a Trash 80”). It was the fancier version, which had a whopping 32KB of memory (today, our cell phones have 250,000 times more memory than that). And it could show A LOT of different colors on the screen at the same time (8!!!). I was convinced that I’d write a story or program a video game on this thing and then I’d be famous and I could quit school. Instead, I wrote one program that flashed between all eight of the colors and it made me too nauseous to go to school the next day.

2. I got a modem for my IBM PC when I was a teenager. This would be my window into connecting with people around the world. I could get on a bulletin board system (aka: BBS) and share with others all my cool ideas for stories and games and TV shows. It turns out I just found some bulletin board where you could download video games illegally and I played Leisure Suit Larry all summer, trying to squint my eyes to see if I could make out that animated woman’s pixelated boobs.

3. I installed my first copy of Microsoft Word when I was in college. I was so excited because this fancy pants word processor was WYSIWYG (aka: What You See Is What You Get). It would show you exactly what the printed page looked like. It could even display your text in all the different fonts and I thought this would be my ticket to writing the great American novel, or a great American novel, or at least a good novel, or just a novel. I ended up spending the whole weekend changing the fonts and the margins, and I somehow expected the story to write itself, which it did not.

4. In the first few years of the 21st century, before everyone was running around with smartphones, I used AIM (aka: AOL Instant Messenger) on my computer to chat with my girlfriend who lived across the country. I thought this was the way that we’d stay connected. We could tell each other stories and poems even during our workday, and at night we could sex chat with each other when we were horny. It turns out that chatting through AIM made me feel lonely and depressed and I constantly texted my girlfriend asking for affirmation and proof that she still loved me. She got really sick of talking to me on AIM. And also sick of me off AIM.

5. A few years later, when I started working at a small company that wrote online collaboration software, I thought this would be my window into understanding social media better. I’d learn the secret to getting more Likes on Posts than all my friends (aka: Apparently, I was still working out insecurities from back in high school). I’d learn the secret to making something go viral. I’d post an animated cat gif that would have you ROFLing all the way to the crypto-bank. In the end, it turned out that spending more time thinking about online collaboration just made me want to run for the hills, where no one had ever heard of Facebook or Twitter or InstaTikSnapWhateverChatTok. [a]

[a] On the other hand, this job did spark the idea for my new novel, I ONLY CRY WITH EMOTICONS [b], now available with Red Hen Press. And it helped me understand how I communicate with friends and family, both online and off. And think about when and how I want to be connected to my devices. I learned that being engaged doesn’t necessarily equate to being happy. Sometimes turning everything off is a way to stay turned on. [c]

[b] My novel is about a guy fumbling through his life while working at an online collaboration software company and if you want to learn too much about how I wrote this novel, you can check out my YouTube video about it.

[c] So I guess technology sorta saved me from myself after all. [d]

[d] Oops. I didn’t mean to make another footnote. Sorry about that. Once you start footnoting it’s hard to stop. [e]

[e]

A drawing of a stick figure standing beneath a speech bubble with a heart in it

Grab a copy of I Only Cry with Emoticons and support an independent bookstore while doing so here.

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Red Hen Press

Nonprofit independent literary publisher aiming to amplify unheard and underrepresented voices and improve literacy in schools. www.redhen.org