The Common Era of Fast Connections
Years later historians will denote modern life this way: Before Internet (BI) and After Internet (AI). I have been thinking of what life was like before we got the ‘net at work. I realized how naive we were about our problems which mostly focused on the smelly homeless and their bags of belongings. They are still around but they are obsequious. Those taking center stage now aren’t the drifting insane but a new group of derelicts that have taken root in the library. They seem able bodied but they are definitely always jonesin and their drug of choice: internet.
At first I said it to a friend in jest because one would wonder how anyone could become so attached to something. It’s like TV addiction– no one really believes there’s such a thing as a TV addict. If TV could be that harmful then why are we letting them cut their teeth on it as soon as their wobbly heads are able to stay in place? But looking at children’s grades in comparison to how much television they watch (and in black homes black children on average watch more television than other racial groups) then one must wonder if it is truly so.
The internet just crept up on us and suddenly it was everywhere in every facet of life. You can’t do business without being on the net. For a lot of companies you can’t get a job without logging on to the net. Some high schools require their students to have a laptop (at my daughter’s school the underclassmen’s books have been replaced with laptops with the books uploaded on to them). To get the latest news, whether it’s about the traffic on the commute to and from work or what’s going on in the world we turn to the internet and get the hour by hour (and sometimes minute by minute) updates.
So here we are on the net. But some people have taken it to the exclusion of everything else.
Even in the cold weather they are waiting for the doors to open. Some come around about 8am even though they know we don’t open for another hour. As the time nears they gather around closer to the door and once the church bell rings (which, for some reason, is a minute and a half fast) they push up against the door. When the guard opens the door they fall in and push through, over twenty people making a beeline for the computer room which has become the epicenter of the library. Way before noon the place is filled to capacity and others have to go on the waiting list to wait their turn.
Some are cranky when told their time is up and they have to go on the list to get back on. Others roam around the building and sit in the uncomfortable chairs (we used to have comfortable chairs but then they never left the spot) and stare, waiting for something or someone interesting to walk by. It could be a man or a woman. Sometimes they pick up magazines but a lot of them have the magazines open on their laps and just stare off into space and let the time go by.
Nearly once a week the police have to escort someone out of the computer room. The last time that happened it was because a man recognized someone else as the guy who tried to jack him outside the library. Fists were swung; blood spurted all over the place as one man slammed the head of the other man against the computers and against the pillar before the police could come up. I wasn’t there to witness it. I came in later that day and as I walked through the room I didn’t know anything like that had happened, the place was filled with people on the computers and waiting to get on
When we first got the computers 10 years ago things were the same. The first people the computers attracted were lowlifes –mostly because we had free printing. They didn’t need to get logged on. We didn’t know the computers would be a big draw so day in and day out we was swamped with televisions desired demographic: the American male from 18-50. Except these guys didn’t work except for the play-work they did on the internet. And most of it was porn. Our computers were getting locked up with porn pics and our printers were spewing it out so much that when I came in the next morning and refreshed the cue pages of it would print out. About a year later administration began to listen to our complaints and after some research and hearing stories of the ACLU suing libraries for filtering out certain websites. Although porn is not protected under free speech the ACLU has been able to strong arm libraries to allow patrons to come in and view porn in public places. Because, we really don’t know they are going to view porn and some websites are inadvertently withheld because of our filters so we have to have a certain amount of unfilterable computers. We put up screens on those computers so that only those who are directly in front can view it. That’s what has been decided in order to keep the ACLU from suing.
People refer to the unfilterable computers as the “porn” computers. I am not allowed to watch porn at work but when someone asks to be put on the unfiltered computer I am to assume that they are doing viable research even if they may be sucking their thumb, stroking the screen or jiggling in an odd way. In my old department, before the creation of the big computer room, our unfiltered computer was always (mysteriously) broken.
“What you mean it’s broken?” the man would ask. It’s always a man. A few times it has been a woman but 99.9% of the time it’s a creepy ass looking man.
I’ll shrug my shoulders and try to look as perturbed by it as they are. They say it’s always broken and I agree. “I think it’s a virus,” I give by way of an explanation. Or I say IT is working on it. IT gave up on it after awhile because they replaced it with a new one but that one broke, too. The patron will stomp off mad, in search of someplace else to view porn in a public place.
Now with the new computer room we have more computers than we ever have and they are all in one place. There are a few computers dispersed throughout the building but most of them are in that area and there are five unfilterable computers. People who work there don’t want to walk past that area. They don’t want to see what those behind it could be viewing.
It’s not just the porn viewers but a large group of men who hang down at the library from when we open until we close. Now that word has gotten out that we are “brand new” again they have flocked to us like moths to a flame. They are mostly black with a small percent of white males thrown in. We who work there have been talking about them more lately. There seem more of them. And it’s not because of the downbeat of the economy; these are men who have opted out of the workforce a long time ago, if they ever decided to go into it.
“I’m going to tell you about these guys,” says a male coworker of mine. He is probably more disgusted with the predicament than I am. He points out a young man who he says is about 19 and reminisces of when he first dropped out and started hanging around. The boy sits all day on the computer playing games, watching videos and cruising MySpace. His mother kicked him out, my friend said and one day as he was walking past the computer he noticed the man IM a young woman and asking if he can come and live with her. Selected homelessness is a plight of a lot of the men who hang out. “Some of these guys are in their 40s, still living at home. You remember Jackie? Before she retired she said she was going to tell us what the deal is with these men. She got loud and said, ‘I have a friend with a son just like them. When she goes to work she kicks her 40 year old son out the house at 7:30 and he’s not allowed to come back home until she gets home. Because she knows that if he stays at home he will have his no-good friends over smoking weed or some women over to have sex. These men ain’t about nothing and ain’t never going to be nothing.’ You could have heard a pin drop in the room and in less than 10 minutes all of them cleared out muttering they were going to find someplace else to go.”
My friend tells me stories he overhears while he is putting materials away of how the men talk among themselves waiting to go home and wondering what the mother has cooked for dinner. One man complained about his alleged treatment by his mother, saying he was her child and she should be taking care of him.
“You are a grown man,” my friend admonished him. “You need to do for yourself!”
“I’m a grown ass man” is the mantra of the men who have to be told lower their voices or give up the computer for a waiting user. They get upset, they become petulant and huff, “I’m a grown ass man.”
“They do realize a grown ass man should be out working a job so they can buy their own computer, right?” I laugh.
“A young man walked up to me one day and asked, “You laugh at me, don’t you? And I said, I do, I think it’s funny but not in the way you might find it.” I understand. My friend is black and grew up in the same hood I did. In high school he was close friends with my sister-in-law. This is not the strength of a people I was raised to believe in as I was growing up. It’s sad to see a troop of men sitting around all day wasting their lives away. So you have to laugh at them or it will make you sad or make you mad and I am not allowed to go and put the job section of the newspaper in a man’s hand although I can tell them how long their wait is so they can get back on the computer to watch some more YouTube videos.
As I left work yesterday a 30-something year old man was arguing with the guards. “I was just about to leave,” he said but they escorted him into the security office. I shake my head and walk up to the security guard at the door. She is an older black female and has a disgusted look on her face.
“This stuff be making me sick,” she spat. She was disgusted. She didn’t know exactly know what went on with the incident but suspected her two coworkers of racially profiling the man. “He wasn’t doing nothing, he said he was about to leave. You just don’t know how these folks are. Just racist.” she hissed the last part.
I talk to her for a few more minutes and leave. I wonder what went on with the guy and wonder if it was racism or if the black female guard is an enabler. I wonder if I am unduly biased against the men who hang out all day in the building. And I wonder if they are really addicted to the internet or if they are committing an age old sin: sloth.
I’m not sure, but I don’t begrudge them for wanting to stay in a warm building. I hug my coat closer as I walk against the wind to my bus top.