In the thick of West Virginia, there exists a gas station. In that gas station, there exists a man. This man (who may as well be a boy aside from an oddly prepubescent-looking mustache) has a naked woman tattooed onto his bony arm. His t-shirt from the local emporium is marked by armpit sweat stains. He gapes open the craggy maw, utters indistinguishable mumbles, and begins the transaction process. I follow suit as best I can.
I don’t get it. The transaction went just fine, but I don’t get that lack of self-awareness. I’m so self-aware. I know just how overweight I am (by 25-30 pounds). I recognize my lack of autonomy. I know my experience with the greater world has been limited, so I do the best I can where I’m at. Thanks, Internet.
No, Internet, really. Thanks a lot. I mean that sincerely! My family used to worry about the amount of time I spent in front of a screen till I started learning about the birthing process of giraffes or rising Middle Eastern conflict. I used to play sports. Well, I didn’t do anything more advanced than dick around with friends at a t-ball game, but I went outside. Video games got me inside, then my dad’s computer got me inside. I used the internet years before any of my friends. Most of the time was spent going to Ninja Turtles fan websites or printing out SNES game guides, but I was there, using my legs less, getting fatter, learning more. I think about the past fifteen years of my life now, the ones occupied with a screen shining on my face in the darkest parts of the night, and I’m pretty happy. I know what racism is, what sexism is. I know to avoid passive-aggression. God knows if I kept playing sports it would have ended up with me date raping someone.
See, the fellow I met inWest Virginiaisn’t a bad guy, I would say, but I wouldn’t say he’s a good guy, either. I didn’t get to know him! I simply stood back and observed and saw some other-worldly resemblance of myself. Where he fit the perfect “Redneck” stereotype, I had fit the perfect “Nerd” stereotype. Where he listened to angry AM radio in his pickup on the way back to the trailer, I had parents who bought me toys “because they could” and had no cognizance that my glasses were too big for my face. A wifebeater switched to a BIG DOGS t-shirt with Dragon Ball Z on it. I’m so aware of it, now. I looked so dumb. I still look dumb, sometimes. I just see these people and think “Are you so unaware? Have you never forgotten to sleep due to constantly opening new Wikipedia tabs all night long?” Do you know you are bigoted? Do you know you are awful? Do you know you are wrong? I know I am bigoted. I know I am awful. I know I am wrong. I know what I’m good at, too.
Down the road there’s a morbidly obese middle-aged woman who stops in her tracks, unaware of the traffic she’s blocking till the embarrassing moment where she recognizes and apologies, yet she does the same thing tomorrow. There’s a wide-smiling pastor in the friendliest church in town kicking out the poor man for disagreeing with the way to stack chairs. There’s a fourteen-year-old boy rebelling against his parents by putting on a furry tail and getting way into Nine Inch Nails. There’s a cat deathly afraid of water for no particular reason at all. I stand back and observe and think “Do they not know? Are they unaware?” Whittled down to a fine point, they are stereotypes of stereotypes. What does the redneck feel when he types “redneck” into Google? Does he know what a Google is? Does he fear it? Is it destroying ‘Murrca?
My life has been populated by technology and communication, and even in small towns in North or South CarolinaI feel this overwhelming sense of consciousness. I am a good writer and will try my hardest to be a good person, but at any time I can look up my own little problems; the bump on my leg; the mole on my arm. The implications of female-directed insults; the insensitivity of casual discrimination. I see it and learn from it and suddenly I’m not twelve years old anymore, all assuming and condescending. I don’t feel presumptuous or overbearing, just…a person. I watch a movie, then I go to IMDB to see who wrote it. I feel a heaviness in my chest, I type in the conditions. I eat some French toast for breakfast, then I somehow end up in front of my laptop reading the entry for French toast. (It dates to the 4th century!) It’s called breathing. If I were born only ten years earlier and had to do things like go to the library to pour through encyclopedias, I would have done the same thing. So I just don’t get it. I can’t imagine someone voting on a civil rights issue to never look up their topic in their search bar, or a specific religious belief never being thoroughly examined.
It’s so easy. It’s just right there. But maybe slack-jawed yokels have it right and don’t want to be reminded of their hilariously accurate caricatures, because I am acutely aware of my chubby ass making ramen to watch Japanese wrestling at three in the morning. Still, I’d take it over being intolerant and partisan forever. Well, I’m still sort of partisan. If you’re going to start learning, try doing so without Internet Explorer.