i maintain it was nobody’s fault, but rather an unfortunate accident. i could have prepared, had i known to expect her. she couldn’t prepare, because she didn’t realize the chasm between us.

until Tuesday.

The Awkward Event:
the rapping came at the back door which was odd because it was a weekday and nobody who would use the back door knocks and i was on my feet, bewildered, stealing a glance at the car through the window as my feet hurried me to the back of the house. i registered that i was still in my slippers as my hands wiped themselves against my jeans and automatically reached up to smooth bedhead and check for offending particles in my teeth.

it was 3pm.

i caught bare shoulders and a stray bra strap in the mirror as i shuffled by and i was just struggling one arm into the paint-spattered hoodie i’d slipped off earlier when i heard the door open and she entered the kitchen just a second before i did.

hellOOOOOo. her voice announced her, jarred me; not an inquiring tone so much as a demanding one. where was i? it came up short as we both stepped into the kitchen via different doors.

i smiled, or i think i smiled. smiling is a reflex, right? i meant to smile.

she is one of my oldest friends. we greeted each other with an economic half-hug and stood in my back doorway.

what are you doing? i asked, intending more friendliness than my voice really managed and trailing off before the accusatory “doing HERE” slipped out.

not working, she grinned, shrugged. what are you doing?

my answer spilled before i could stop myself, but when it did, i let it sit for a beat, between us.

working.

i am working. that is what i do when i am here all day paying other people to look after my children. this is where i work.

and all the while she was here – which wasn’t a long visit, she took the message – i know that beat hung in the air like my rictus of a smile.

The Internal Monologue:
the beat meant to say, oh, my dear friend.

it is *nice* that you’ve come back from Bermuda and have another week off from your government job and it’s nice that you’re keen to tell me you don’t even open emails for work during holidays because surely you can have just two weeks actually off even if i can’t quite fathom the concept of not opening email for two weeks, let alone unplugging entirely, and it’s nice that you get to engineer this complete separation between professional and personal life for a two week period.

i don’t get it, but i got to tell you, it sounds nice. really. it does. nicer than Bermuda, even.

the beat meant to say, i feel helpless because we have become different species, my friend, and i know you don’t mean to offend and neither do i. i swear on my mother.

but here we are. and i should have offered tea, and i know it.

it is the 24th of May, the Queen’s Birthday. the old rhyme my grandmother taught me ends, “and if we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away.” i need a goddam holiday. but Victoria Day or no, there is no running away from the fissure between my friend’s life and my own.

so instead i offer this, a helpful primer on my kind.

print it out if you need to. share at will.
*** 

A Primer, to Facilitate Pleasant Relationships between Networked Humans and Those Who Love Them:

i am homo new medius: the networked human.

this is life, with a few tweaks and variations, for many of us in the 21st century.

maybe you are a networked human, too. or maybe you just know one. perhaps you have a friend or family member who has become swallowed up by networks and you no longer know how to interact with him or her.

please know that the gap is kinda painful on both sides. homo new medius probably cares about you, just as you care about him or her. but cross-species friendships and family relationships take special care and understanding.

Networked is Constant
first, it’s important for those of you who aren’t networked to understand that being networked is not actually a bad thing. it’s just different. it’s very different.

for some of us, it allows privileges like working from home or being part of our kids’ lives in more flexible ways than traditional jobs allow. for most, it’s an add-on to already busy job and life commitments. but it’s part of the price of being engaged in the culture or arts or education industries in the 21st century. business, too, though not all of them have caught on yet.

it also enables handy things like paying mortgages even with an Arts degree.

for many of us, it means doing what we love. it is a privilege, just a bit of an all-consuming one.

it tends to mean we work a lot. often on scattered and widely distributed projects, often using widely variant voices and skill sets in the run of a day. we do a lot of sharing of our work, because impression management and reputation-building are part of getting more work. we’d share your work too, quite generously, if you were putting any out there.

Networked is Time-Managed
being networked means that our personal/professional divides have long since blurred in ways you probably find baffling and disconcerting. we may have tried to explain this to you once or twice. we have probably given up.

it means the notion of a vacation in your sense of the term – unplugged not just from technologies but from the professional aspects of who we are – is as quaint and foreign to us as any other holdover from the Victorian rift between the domestic sphere and society.

it means that we are uber-connected, but that our relationships – particularly those not with young children, for whom many of us make special exceptions – have to be managed, because we are juggling multiple deadlines most of the time.

homo new medius can actually be decent friends, i swear. we’re often good communicators, though we prefer to communicate in-network. we’re usually pretty tuned into relating with others. it’s just, if you want our undivided attention so we can relate to YOU, you’ll need to give us notice, the same as you would for any other busy professional.

Networked is Always In Two (or Six) Places at Once
and so – and this is the Most Important Part of the Primer – while you may find us in our houses, that does not mean we are actually sitting around eating bonbons and watching Days of our Lives.

or if we are, we’re probably still working straight through it.

homo new medius can be found in a variety of semi-natural physical settings. we are also almost always simultaneously in at least one other online setting – at the very same time – working or sharing or learning or doing whatever it is that your particular networked human does.

our failure to respond to your unannounced visits or phone calls with unbridled pleasure and hospitality is not intended to be rude. it is, rather, simply, that you don’t recognize our work habits. you will not see us barging into your offices unannounced expecting to chitchat for no reason beyond the social. please accord us the same the respect.

Networked is Not Your Monkey
and yet, i know, you mean no harm.

to you it looks like we’re just home, piddling away on nothing. or Tweeting. to you, those look the same. sometimes they are. but not usually.

but when you assume they are, and you joke and diminish things you don’t understand while still demanding our time, you make us feel kinda like we’re in the zoo, required to explain our own personal brand of exotica.

if you want to visit your networked friends, please bring your own peanuts. also, do not expect us to drop everything at your convenience. that is all.

Pro Tip: if you would like to schedule a meeting outside prime productivity hours – when we’re usually still working but more amenable to taking a break – that’d be great. and if you ever want us to explain to you how this networking stuff works, just ask. we’ll mostly be happy to show you.

though beware: it’s catching.
***

Coda: i’m not advocating networked as The Way to live. today, a ticket to Bermuda and two weeks radio silence sounds absolutely beautiful. and i need to do a better job of carving out time for my friends and family who aren’t part of my online networks, because they’re important to me.

but we live increasingly in a world wherein the divides that used to operate between time-on and time-off don’t hold anymore, and while those of us who’ve made – for business or pleasure or some mix of both – the move to more networked practices are literate in how the other half live, the reverse is not so true. or is limited to the righteous annoyance (relatively justified) of all of us who’ve ever tried to have a conversation with someone unable to tear their nose out of their phone for three seconds.

still. i believe that networked humans and non-networked humans CAN get along. i believe in a world of peace and love between those of us trying to learn to walk the blended personal/professional tightrope, and those who’ve chosen other walks in life. this is my missive to them.

did i miss anything? any other homo new medius out there with anything to add?