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Apparently you can type in a question, and 282,000 results would appear in .4 seconds. You can watch cat videos over and over for free whenever you want. And the games… there are so many games. Games I’ve never even heard of. There is no end. In my 10 year old brain, the internet was perfect. All my friends used the computer a lot already. I was a little late to the party. Oh so many sites to explore in such a little amount of time. As I grew older it only became more and more fantastic. School research became easier. Communication was faster. A few clicks, some typing, and hours fly by. It isn’t even that bad for you. There are such minimal downsides to the internet that if you use it right, nothing will go seriously wrong.
I discovered the internet nine years ago. It was pretty magical. It still is. Instant information and the sense of connectedness made me feel almost famous. I made my first Facebook profile when I was 12. The most exciting part was the personalization. Customization is what I lived for. I made my account and filled out all my information as fast as I could. There are a billion pictures of me on my dad’s computer, so I chose the one of me ice skating with my brother. Birthday? January 19**. Parents? I typed in my dad’s name. Siblings? Then my brother. Religious views? School? Hometown? Movies Spouse School AddressEmailWorkplace… It felt so good to express myself without too much effort. Who has time to write a song or paint a portrait anyway? It all just felt so good to be… connected. And sure, as a kid you’d sit through a bunch of boring lectures over the years as the voice of the principal droned on about sharing your personal information on such dangerous, even deadly kidnapping sites. Everyone around you was posting about how lame it was on their phones. But if everyone posted their ‘personal’ information, there’s such a small chance of me getting kidnapped so why even bother? Everyone does it. They’re all still here and breathing so I think I’ll be fine. I was too old to be abducted anyway. Not to mention your phone number isn’t ‘personal information.’ You social security number is, and I’m smart enough to not post that.
It’s been a long time since 2009. Huh. What do you know. I didn’t get abducted after all. I never knew anyone who was, either, and I’m already in high school. Posting contact information isn’t really that big of a deal as parents and teachers make it out to be. I don’t really post things on Facebook anymore anyway. I mean, if you click ‘my photos’ you’ll still see 22 albums of trips to chruch camp, second half of junior year and photos of my brother, but the only reason I even use Facebook anymore is to find the date of the next youth fellowship carwash or work on the group project due next Tuesday on the symbolism of the color white in The Scarlet Letter. Harmless. Then I got the phone call.
I pulled up to Ryan’s driveway and parked the car. After I took off my seatbelt a techno pop beat rang from the cup holder on my right.
“Go inside, I’ll meet you in there.”
“Yeah, no I have a phone call apparently.”
“A’ight see you inside.”
‘Unknown number.’ I wonder who I know who keeps their caller ID private now. Hmm. Maybe it’s a wrong number. It’s probably a wrong number. I press the green picture of a phone.
He didn’t have to finish. I knew from the first syllable. My tongue fell into my throat. My brain felt heavy. No warning or anything, how unfair. His deep voice sounded sad and relieved at the same time. I was no longer looking at the inside of my dad’s 2011 Honda Fit at this point. I saw in front of me the walls of my second address, which nowadays is up to 8. I was in the living room of the first floor, coloring while he watched TV. Then he was changing the lightbulb and smoking a cigarette. There were a lot of memories that I haven’t thought about in a long time. That was all seven houses ago. That was a few drug binges and an unrelated jail sentence ago. I haven’t seen Uncle Mike in a long, long time. What connections do we even have anymore? What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to tell my own uncle that I wasn’t interested in talking to him? He told me about his job. He works in a small bike shop where we used to live. I think I might remember the one. It was on the main street that cut through Hampton Bays. That’s nice I guess. He even had a little dog: Bandit. He said it was the only thing he lived for anymore. That, and me. But you know, no pressure, right? I remember how Uncle Mike would get up with me in the mornings before school to cook me breakfast because he was the only one who would. Those were probably the best eggs I’ve ever eaten. I’m pretty sure he built the old swingset outside of Beachdale too. I spent a lot of time on that swing set. Uncle Mike did a lot of good things for me that I will never be able to repay. Even if we did still talk, I would not be able to give him what he gave me.
Then I remembered the maggots in the fridge after he reluctantly left years later. They were all over the same kitchen we used to eat in. I remember when we found a bag of white powder behind the couch. I remember the restraining order (not in effect anymore) for my mother and me because he and my mother weren’t the best of friends. Most of all, I remember when he came back from jail just to live in the woods across from where we go grocery shopping. He still had an almost untouched bedroom waiting for him. He was happier living with a group of ‘friends’ in the woods than in my grandmother’s house. Maybe he was just avoiding conflict. Maybe he wanted to do his illegal activities in peace, who knows?
So. The question remained. How did he find me? From where did he get my number? He doesn’t have a Facebook. He doesn’t even know what Facebook is. But he has friends who do. Friends who were once also my friends and still are on the eternal world that lives online. How incredibly dumb could I be to put my phone number up there for the world to see? And you know, if I never got that call, it would still be up there to this day, guaranteed.
I just got out of that mess of a family, I can’t go back now. I mean, don’t get me wrong. all of those experiences made me who I am today and all that good crap, but I know it has to be over now. So my dad had a long conversation with Uncle Mike. I sat at the kitchen table, overhearing the phone conversation that was taking place in a bedroom not that far away. Then we changed my phone number. It took a few months until everyone knew it again. A week before I would have said just look it up on Facebook. That would have solved everything in a matter of hours. Anyway, then I deleted every Facebook post I’ve ever created and I made myself impossible to find on social media. It was only then, in 10th grade, that it hit me that all those lectures, all the talks and assemblies, they weren’t just about perverts and predators online. And it doesn’t actually matter what age you are for something to go sour on the internet. Ugh, it was all such a corny after school special but so much more important because that is TV and this is real life and TV shows can’t always change who you are like reality can. How many Law and Order episodes have I seen about someone getting hurt because of something they posted online? Too many to count. They never stopped me. I’m glad I know all of these important cheesy lessons now, it just sucks that it took what it did to learn them.
So the internet can be dangerous, who knew? I actually did know that. I just didn’t know how. I’m positive that I still probably make mistakes to this day about posting things online. I don’t post anything illegal or obscene or whatever but who knows? Maybe I voiced an opinion that is disagreeable to a future employer or maybe I’m friends with someone who I shouldn’t be. What other mistakes have I made? It’s so easy to see the mistakes of other people, but what about me? I still believe that the internet is a great tool for both work and play. Even while doing homework I check Twitter every so often to give my mind a tiny break. I use it for research and essays, for talking to people four hours away, for deciding which new phone to get next, and a thousand other things. It is a fantastic resource still, no doubt. However, now I know how to actually use it. For a lot of people, it might take a weird uncle to realize what I finally did. Others may know off the bat what is actually right and what is actually not, but for the most part people learn the most from real experience. Personally, I am not prepared for another call any time soon. I don’t think I ever will be.
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