By Jane Barnes
Oh, that first love note sent in 1988 on AOL! The thrill of the whirling connection on that gigantic beige Apple computer, before iPhones, texting (and blocking) when words (especially to a writer—this writer) were practically proof of love, attention, bagging the game, or not. You don’t have to be well-groomed, dressed in cumbersome “street clothes” to woo or be wooed. Hired or fired. Dated or dissed. Then as now, tears can be rolling down your face, but your tone is cheerful, tasteful—even falsely optimistic.
Nowadays, you can go on Skype or Zoom and make 100 friends. Some actually call and they mean much—in the face of old age (nearing 80, with walker), dishevelment; or otherwise, in perfidy and blatant lying. The epidemic taught us this. No need to sneeze on any real faces. Rescue some, it did. Expose the bad.Speaking of the bad, who, reading this—raise your hand—has not stalked an ex online, or checked who’s following you, seen that X never answered you back, or seen that old wedding photo taken before you came out as bi? Businesses know what I like and tell me, Remember that blue cardi you glanced at for a second? Even well-meaning friends say ‘Wow. For an—er—elder, you sure know your shit.”
Groceries, lists of bi books, submitting bi poems, bi flirtations, bi snubs—I do it all online. Social insecurities, direct deposits, food counting apps—all on that oblong thing (iPhone) above my shoulders where my head used to be, where nimble feet without a GPS used to walk.
I’ve been scammed by late-night impulse purchases, in love (yeah, sure) with strangers (possibly lodging in Fort Worth or Bangladesh)—and done chair yoga to YouTube, and come upon my brother who, with reason, blocks me because I really did boss him as a kid.
Bulletin: struggling with online virtual therapist, dress came in the wrong size, or, conversely, enjoying a nice text life with a sister 3,500 miles away. And the kicker? I worked 60 years ago at that tech giant, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the U.S. Army’s ARPA Network, which eventually became the You-Know-What.
Way back in Cambridge, MA in 1968 at 25, I sent to “our” 48 Multics programmers (male, in cargo shorts and hand-made leather sandals) a missive. And sent one also to the two women savants, one in sensible slacks and the other in a minidress. We would call that missive an email. I wrote it in rhyming PL/1, as a concrete poem (poem in a shape, in this case, a valentine), and blasted it off from a noisy beige teletype the size of an upright piano.
Then Viet Nam stopped. Hippies stopped. Feminists started. McCarthy lost. (I’m dating myself.). Laptops started. Most of us now—clasping our cell phones, etc., in 2023—have been responsible for our love and hate relationships with the internet.
Jane Barnes has published work in BWQ for over 12 years, and has poems in Gay & Lesbian Quarterly, Ploughshares, The River Styx, The Mass. Review, Epiphanies, and Wrongdoing. Her work appears in the anthologies Bi Any Other Name and Getting Bi. She taught English at NYU and Medgar Evers College in NYC where she lives and is writing a novel with a bisexual heroine.