Like most of you, I love to read. I think that’s true for most of us who write. As a mother, it’s difficult for me to find time to read. With young children at home (I hesitate to say small as #1son just jumped two shoes sizes in the past 5 months. Yes. I said, two sizes!) my reading time is limited. But when I stumble onto something that grabs my attention, pulls me in and won’t let me go until I finish? I’m going to want to share it with all of you.
This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman, is a compelling story of a young teen who receives an illicit video email from a girl who has crush on him. He is stunned, conflicted and confused. With a click of a mouse, he forwards the email to his best friend – a friend with whom he shares everything. A modern-day telephone game ensues and the video goes viral.
Privacy issues, family dynamics, social posturing in an upper class New York society are tossed together in a mixed-up tale questioning the boundaries we cross daily with our internet use. This story fascinated me as I wrestle with how public and transparent my own daughter seems to be on Facebook. I’ve had to ask her, repeatedly, to be careful with the pictures she posts of her little brothers. I typically get the eye-roll and a toss of the head. Feeling “square” I try to see it from her perspective but always come back to the same uneasy feelings that somehow our family privacy no longer exists in the click of a mouse internet age.
Helen Schulman is a compelling writer. I did get a little annoyed with meandering fluff sections and the use of profanity in descriptive, third person passages. I’m not against profanity use. I watch Dexter for goodness sake and have to check my own f-word use after watching an episode. But it seemed out of place (as if the narrator was trying to be as “hip” as her character) and seemed better suited to appear in actual dialogue. But I really enjoyed the way the story progressed from a different character perspective with each turn of the page. The frustration of the bread winning father, the shame and embarrassment of the son, the mom, barely coping with her new role as social outcast and the raw innocence of the 6-year-old daughter. A family divided in reaction and coping skills yet united in this internet tragedy.
This book doesn’t provide instant answers to the boundary hopping game the ease of the internet has given us. But it does push the reader to question personal boundaries and our comfort levels when we put ourselves out on the internet for all the world to see – whether we intend for the whole world to see us or not.
And what about our children and what we teach them is appropriate to share of themselves? For me, I’ve realized my own lazy internet parenting with my daughter and has me re-thinking how we’ll handle the computer with our sons.
I’m reminded of a New Adventures of Old Christine episode. Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) realizes that she just clicked send on a scathing email intended for her friend but sent instead, to her boss. She races down the cord of the laptop and yanks it out of the wall. Then breathes a sigh of relief. And her brother remarks, “Yep. I’m sure you stopped it.”
With a click of a mouse, your whole world can change.
And there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.