If you overhear a couple breaking-up in a public place and you don’t live-tweet their conversation, why do you even have a cell phone? If you haven’t recorded every single awkward detail of the first date at the table next to yours for meaningless internet likes, are you really taking an active part in society? If someone else’s misery isn’t fair game for your own consumption and profit, DOES LIFE EVEN HAVE MEANING?
These are questions we face every day. And every day, more people fall prey to the urge to turn other people’s stupidity into social media cache. I remember the first time I live-tweeted an overheard (#overheard #OH) conversation. I was at a Mexican restaurant and I heard this guy ask the woman he was with: “what’s a burrito?” The woman (a friend? a first date?) was like, “You’ve never heard of a burrito?” And then the guy was like, “of course I’ve HEARD of one, but I’m allergic to cheese and I never get Mexican food so I forget what it is.”
My fingers grabbed my phone and opened the Twitter app so fast you’d think my life depended on it. And in a way, it did. I turned this unsuspecting stranger’s innocent question into a pithy diatribe about how idiots shouldn’t be allowed to eat or procreate or go on first dates.
I said I’d witnessed a real-life Mermaid Ariel. (“Mouths are required for talkin’, laughin’ / Chowing down on a, what’s that word again? Burritooooo!”) I joked that he should trade his mouth for something he’d have more use for, like fashion sense. I hit “send tweet” and then stared at my phone, waiting for the likes and RTs to pour in.
But I didn’t go viral. The tweet got three likes. I spent the rest of the day checking and re-checking twitter, my disappointment increasing each time I hit “refresh.”
That was two years ago. Every so often, I still think about that idiot who didn’t know what burritos were. And then I get sad again about how he didn’t bring me internet fame. But I started going to therapy recently and I had a revelation: what if there was another way? What if we don’t have to put every single thought we have on the internet? What if we let other people live their lives in public without discretely sharing their foibles with the world?
Look, we all know Big Brother is watching. But maybe we’d be better off if we pretended privacy was still a thing. Maybe we could choose not to participate in a culture of Not Caring About Other People. Maybe we can have empathy for other people and stay out of their beeswax when it isn’t our business. (Unless they’re literally harming beeswax. In which case you should publicly shame them on all your social media platforms. Because bees are dying and once the bees are gone the rest of us have ten years, tops. No joke.)
So this Gleek is a shout-out to every person out there who sees something juicy or funny or embarrassing about an innocent stranger and doesn’t share it with the world. I wish I had your strength. But right now I have to go tweet a photo of this drunk girl who I just saw puke in her Taylor Swift-inspired Vince Camuto handbag.