Yesterday afternoon, for an hour or so, I was perched, up high on a wooden chair, in the back of my favorite coffee shop in Studio City. I was writing a short story and concentrating on a character who suffers a nervous breakdown.
Across from me, diagonally, and seated at a lower table, a middle-aged woman sat with her open checkbook, her mobile phone, and artfully addressed mailers with her mid-century name and current address calligraphically sharpied.
Her name and address were so large and so graphic that I could read it seven feet away: Terri Lynn Graumann, 12765 Moorpark #Apt. 2904. Studio City, CA 91604 [Name and address have been changed]
I went back to my writing but then the woman turned around, frazzled and disoriented, and asked, “Did you see anyone go into my purse?” She was referring to her black, poster-board sized, leather handbag that looked expensive and elegant.
“No I didn’t,” I answered. I half expected her to accuse me but she didn’t.
She turned to another couple, in conversation, to ask them the same question.
It soon became obvious that the woman was missing another electronic device that her mobile phone indicated was right there in front of her, or nearby.
She rifled nervously through her 36″ x 24″ x 1″ purse, and upended her papers and looked under the table and inside her black duffle coat pocket. She brought us all into her missing electronic device mystery, and we had to stop writing, or talking, or thinking, and listen to her plea to find her missing Ipad.
Then she ran out of the coffee shop, ostensibly into her vehicle, to locate the missing object. On her table, left behind, were blank checks, her name, her home address and her mobile phone.
She returned, relieved and carrying her missing device. She had found it in her car.
She sat down, opened it and started to work on her finances, which I could not see in detail, other than the large logo for Chase Bank.
I’m often jittery about getting robbed, and sometimes, like that woman, I’ll wonder if that wallet or phone or laptop I brought in to the coffee shop has gone missing. So I am not without empathy for her temporary debacle.
But again, it is ironic, in this day when shows like “Mr. Robot” dramatize how easily one’s information can be hacked electronically, especially, in public places; to see someone do almost everything wrong, and indeed, dangerously, to put her personal information and financial privacy out in the open.
Again, real people sacrifice reality to save a digital device.
In a larger sense, we lose “friends” who come to town and post photos on Instagram and Facebook and never bother to see us in person. If we “unfriend” them that is as grave an insult as not getting together in person. Or maybe it isn’t.
We work on our online persona, to gain followers, to get compliments from strangers, to make friends with people who have more fans, and then we fail to visit our family for Christmas.
Or we are thrown into a panic because one portable computer is missing and we think that it is the end of the world.
And an idiot on Twitter, the most powerful man in the world, cannot resist joking about global warming, the FBI, nuclear war and health care. His projections matter most to him and the rest of the world must be brought into his virtual drama. That real icebergs are melting, that real people are sick and have no insurance, that real children die from guns, that real wars are started by selling weapons to evil countries, those facts are real. But a tweet, a conjuration of idiocy read by millions, it matters only because it is spoken online.
That’s the true story of modern life: to rescue the imaginary while imperiling the real.
And not knowing the difference.