I love the digital world.
The electronic toys. The immediacy of the internet with its bar-bet bank of information. Even the constant promise of artificial intelligence -- which I long thought was an attribute of those who read The New York Review of Books, but none of the books reviewed in it.
What I have yet to develop, though, are the social tools that allow me to navigate in this brave new electronic world. Let me give you an example.
If I go to my mother's house, I know her questions will be rife with sub-text, but she will have no long term agenda -- having abandoned her quixotic quest for grandchildren from this branch of the Cotton tree. When I walk through her door, I know exactly which social tools I will need to make the conversation a pleasant experience. And, of course, they always are.
When I walk into a singles bar, I need an entirely different set of tools. Unlike the questions my mother asks, the questions I receive from the woman sitting beside me are going to be the type of vapid exchanges strangers use to probe new territory. No subtext. But the smell of agenda will be thick in the cigarette-clotted air.
Decades of practice have honed those tools. But nothing has prepared me for the odd world of messenger on Facebook.
My "friends" on Facebook are an interesting mix. Some are true friends. People I have known for decades, who I would call "friend" in the sense we once used the term. There are even people I have met recently who make that cut.
But most of the people on my list are merely acquaintances. Some are absolute strangers.
And it is that last group that has piqued my interest today. Messenger on Facebook is like a large movie set where my mother's sitting room shares space with a political rally, an artvgallery complete with critics, a singles bar, and numerous other venues. It is almost like one of those dreams where you constantly ask yourself: "How did I end up here?"
I have a number of beautiful young Mexican women who have shown up on my "friends" list. I am not certain how they got there. Beautiful. Young. Mexican. I guess I know the answer to my question.
Now and then, one of them will start a conversation with me on Messenger. Usually something quite harmless in a far-too-familiar way -- like "Hello, Steve. How are you tonight?"
And there's the rub. I have no idea if the conversation is in my mother's kitchen or on a dark street corner in Shanghai. Being who I am, I usually treat the salutation as the latter, and move on with my life ignoring the solicitation.
If you think the reaction is harsh, I will share a recent exchange. The young lady lives in Manzanillo, and has been a "friend" for less than a year.
Her: Hello Steve, how are you?
Him: Fine. Are you still working?
Her: No. I am doing volunteer work. [Very sexy photographs attached]
Him: That must be tough supporting yourself. Are you looking for work?
Her: Yes. But I cannot find anything. I have two children to support. [Photograph of cute kids attached]
Him: Ouch! I often wonder why young people stay in this area. There seem to be few jobs -- especially this time of year. Cute kids.
Her: Thanks. Yes. Turned down for two jobs. I need money for them.
It was at this point, I realized I was not sitting on a church pew next to my mother. The collection plate had morphed into a tray of cocktail wieners.
Him: Maybe you should try Guadalajara.
Her: I would need money for the bus. You know there was one time I thought to start having sex for money. That was my situation.
Okay. I admit I felt some mixed emotions at this point. My heart went out to her (after all, we are all thirsty in our search in life), and my head told me to get myself out of there -- now.
Him: I hope you were wise enough to reject the idea.
Her: Oh, yes. Yes. I would never do anything like that.
I was ready to pull the plug when she realized I was not nibbling on the hook.
Her: Well, I have things to do tonight. Bye.
I really should have seen the solicitation coming. After all, she is not the first netizen who has trolled me for paid sex. It happens at least two or three times a month. I suspect my Facebook profile may have something to do with it. And it was why I have ignored her previous greetings.
Even so, it is a bit sad that a sizable number of young people in my local area have chosen the easy and dangerous option of selling their youth -- even if it is to feed their children. I guess I could say the same thing about selling drugs.
The good thing is that I am finally developing some electronic street sense. Even though my mother is not going to get her coveted grandchild. From me.