if the internet saved your life, would you still break up with your computer?

February 5, 2011

it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the internet saved my life. sure, something else may very well have done the job just as well or better, but then again there’s always the chance nothing would have come along at all. being a thirteen year old trans girl living in the Midwest is dangerous, and one of the reasons it is dangerous is the unending, horrible despair of feeling yourself a monster among people.

i was lucky. my parents got a computer. they got the Internet, via America OnLine (20 free hours a month! 2 dollars an hour thereafter (I had to work off so many additional hours when the bills would come that it was actually impossible for me to work them all off)!). i found that i could “be a girl,” as i thought of it (never realizing then that i was a girl, albeit a girl whose experience of girlhood was discounted completely by most people), and no one would know that i was weird (other than the fact that we were roleplaying characters from the Wheel of Time series or pretending to be space fighter pilots fighting giant cat aliens (bonus points for knowing what computer game series i’m talking about here!) or talking about punk music).

eventually i discovered an e-mail list full of young trans folks (mostly girls like me), the AntiJen list. eventually i discovered that most of my online connections “didn’t care” that i was trans (the exception being all the space fighter pilot boys, probably because they were bound to someday become cocky macho Air Force jocks and it was too threatening to them how much they had flirted with me (there was only one other girl in our little club, so we both got quite a bit of flirty attention)). now i know that the gold standard for your community isn’t that they “don’t care” about some really important way that you are oppressed and messed with in society, but at the time i was quite content to take not caring.

I HAD FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

so the Internet saved my life, and it improved my quality of life by helping me come out at school at a younger age than i would have otherwise. i hope the Internet continues to do this for people from now until whatever demise it meets.

computers in general were very interesting to me from the time i first was exposed to them (when i was nine i started using a 10 year old apple II to write poetry about Halloween and derivative fantasy short stories (the Black Pot = the Black Cauldron, Redwall could be retold starring a colony of mongoose…). i see the same fascination in my oldest child. he wants to use them to create things (stop motion animation, lists of swear words, his own video games, etc.) and he wants to play around inside them, both with their hardware and their software.

yet i am held back from doing what my unschooling tendencies shout at me to do: let him explore the computer until he is sated, if ever. i am held back by my own fear. i fear that too much time spent on the computer or playing video games will hamper his intellectual growth in other areas, despite the fact that i appear largely unharmed by the years i spent dating my computer. i fear that his emotional growth and maturity will be harmed; for all the connections that i made on the Internet with people i no longer know and rarely if ever saw in person, there are connections i failed to make in my immediate community, connections that, while they were obviously harder for me as a trans girl to find, once found did more than keep me alive: they helped me be more comfortable and confident in the real world, the one that will never go away regardless of energy depletion, climate change, or home-grown totalitarian regimes. and yet i know that holding him back too much will have it’s own consequences that will be perhaps greater. i don’t want to stunt him. he is no hothouse flower.

for the last eight years (all his life, really), we have had the same computer, a beautiful aluminum-clad 12″ Powerbook G4 named Hermione. i have a tendency towards anthropomorphism in my relationships to everything (from Legos to chickens to doorknobs to oak trees to, yes, computers). i can’t help but relate to my computer something like Dairine from the Young Wizards novels relates to Spot, except my computer doesn’t talk to me or help me save the universe from the entropy, usually. my kids and i have put in an AirPort card (so we could have wifi), we have added RAM, we’ve taken Hermione apart almost completely to see what her different components are. She has stories the kids have recorded, all our pictures, some videos, the first novel I ever wrote, and more ephemera of our family life saved on her.  i would keep this computer forever as our one and only if it weren’t for the idea I had recently… that the computer could be a much more managable presence in our lives, and a much more useful one in lots of ways, if it were parked at a desk. I know, of course, that laptops are many times more efficient than desktops (and energy consumption is a huge concern of mine, although i also realize that most of the energy used in a computer’s lifespan is consumed during its manufacture), and so we’ve obtained my father’s old business computer, which he estimates to be about four years old, which makes it an amazing leap forward in terms of capabilities. we’ve installed Edubuntu and are learning to like it! i am planning to get a digital microscope that can attach to our optical microscope so we can both view specimens with greater magnification and so my littlest one can actually see what the rest of us can (tiny eyes and microscopes make for a struggle). i also want to set up a permanent place for my oldest to work on his stop-motion animation.

the main benefit, however, will be in keeping the glowing screen separate from the rest of our house! i think this will make it easier to achieve our goal (reached by consensus!) of two days a week where we don’t use a computer, a cell phone (other than for calls), or a portable video game system at all, which will leave that much more time for building our chicken coop (we are going to have pet chickens again! and maybe ducks! hooray for the approach of spring!), gardening, drawing, painting, baking, playing kickball, and being goofy, among other equally worthy pursuits.

i thank the internet for saving my life but i’m not sorry i broke up with my computer.

2 Responses to “if the internet saved your life, would you still break up with your computer?”

  1. mikaela said

    Being an incredibly shy socially awkward punk girl living in a small super conservative christian town, i needed the internet. i found friends and community and eventually the confidence i needed to venture out on my own. the internet kept me from literally killing myself. in our house i work thru the internet and have to be on it daily but i do make time to unplug the machine and go on adventures. its consuming and addicting and its important to remember to enjoy your non virtual life as well.

  2. Tracie said

    I agree with keeping the computer on as social dating level versus a serious relationship. I loved reading this aloud to my kids, who relate to the story so well.
    Tha ability to find solace and save oneself from a lonely childhood, where one feels like a monster, is wonderful.
    An Amazing and strong woman wrote this story.
    I will also add that she is a great mom who puts her children first.

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