Welcome to the Hamster Hotel

Reading blurrpy.com earlier this week, I came upon a link to a most wondrous thing. Some design firm called O*GE Creative (the asterisk adds a lovely note of pretension, don’t you find?) created a giant, human-habitable bird nest:

The giant birds’ nest was created “as a prototype for new and inspiring socializing space, which can be seen as a morph of furniture and playground … Ready to to be used, to be played in, and be worked in.” I think it’s a marvelous idea, and one I am certain to have in my house, once I win the lottery and begin establishing my network of seasonal homes across the globe. But a work space? The thought of clambering into this thing with my colleagues to discuss our latest projects gives me the heebies. It would feel way too much like climbing into bed and I really want to stop thinking about it. Besides, I sometimes have a terrible time staying awake in meetings, and nestling into this, well, nest would be like mainlining an Ambien drip straight into my cerebellum, or whatever part of the brain gives me that happy tired feeling at the end of the day.

So I won’t be pushing to have the giant birds’ nest installed in our office anytime soon. But it did remind me of an idea I had a long time ago that I can’t seem to let go of. It concerns hamsters.

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The Unelucidated Facebook Tragedy

You’re scrolling your Facebook news feed, populated with friends, acquaintances, relatives, that guy you met waiting in line to get into a concert, coworkers you never speak to, and so on. Down the list you come to that old high school friend you haven’t seen since graduation. (That is a long time ago. You are approaching 40, like me. And you are probably losing your hair, and you really ought to do something about that belly. But I digress.) Next to her name you see something like this:

To our beloved Cassie [for example] — you would have been 16 years old today. Daddy and I miss you so much and we carry you in our hearts every day. We love you!

Hmm. I take it something happened.

I am not making light of anyone’s tragedy. Truly — the thought of losing a child is horrifying to me and I don’t even have any children. But being a person who suffers from a degree of social awkwardness, I have a masochistic fascination with this kind of social cul-de-sac. The person who posted about this loss obviously did so in the knowledge that those close to her would know what she was talking about. I have not spoken to her in person in twenty years, and barely even pass the time with her on Facebook, and so I have no idea what she’s talking about, apart from what I can infer. The dilemma, obviously, is this:

Is it appropriate to ask for more details when a distant Facebook friend refers to a personal tragedy you know nothing about?

On the one hand, the simple answer appears to be, why not? If they posted it to Facebook of their own accord, it would seem they are capable of engaging with the subject on at least a limited basis. Imagine the corollary real-world experience: you are making the rounds at your high school reunion. Having already met and greeted this friend earlier in the evening, you find yourself near her in a quiet corner where you can exchange words. And she says to you, My daughter would have been 16 years old today. I still think about her all the time. In this situation, it is obviously completely appropriate to ask for more information — indeed, it would be rude not to, and your friend certainly wants to be able to share with you the pain and loss that she has carried with her.

But Facebook is not real life, and it is really not even close to real life. There is nothing in the real world that maps to Facebook’s strange social stew of acquaintances, ex-boyfriends, bosses, grade-school friends, parents and that really nice gal you met at Subway all bobbing around in the same virtual medium. Unless you take the time to stratify these people into castes and direct certain posts only at certain groups — which, judging by my personal experience, virtually no Facebook user knows how to do — your tragic outpouring is hitting every pair of eyeballs with the same force. It seems crazy to think that someone would compose a reflection on the death of her own child that is equally suitable for both her mother and for a schoolmate she hasn’t seen since Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em came out. Therefore, I think she can’t be doing it on purpose: the Facebook settings that would allow her to target her post to a select group of readers must either be too opaque to figure out or she just doesn’t know about them. Which leaves me thinking, again, that I really ought to not say anything.

I don’t know. I really have no clue what is the appropriate thing to do. But I can tell you this: if you came to this post through a link on my Facebook wall, it’s because I wanted you, and you specifically, to see it. I think I’ve had all the social ambiguity I can take for a while.

Karaoke: Live in Fear

A peculiar thing happens when you set up a karaoke machine at a party. At first, no one wants to approach it. Everyone, whether they have any interest in singing or not, is waiting for the first person to walk up there, pick up the microphone and start singing. No one wants to be that person — and certainly no one wants to be mistaken for that person. If the karaoke machine happens to be set up next to the liquor, then the shy partygoers are forced to either walk over to it with exaggerated nonchalance or simply refrain from getting another drink until someone begins singing. (Or worse, ask someone else to get a drink for them.) Observing this in action at a party this weekend, I began to speculate on how karaoke machines could be used to exploit natural social anxieties. I envision a safe disguised to look like a karaoke machine: those who weren’t frightened by it would likely be too repulsed to go near it. Karaoke machines could be used to hide stains or damage you wouldn’t want people to notice, or to dissuade guests from raiding your refrigerator. I would even guess that a karaoke machine in the bathroom would, if not scare people away completely, would at least instill a vague disquiet. Why is this here? they would wonder, eyeing the machine nervously as they wiped. Are we going to be singing karaoke later? They’d be so freaked out they’d completely forget to snoop in your medicine cabinet.

As for the experience of singing or watching karaoke, I realized this: karaoke is like jet-skiing, in that it is an enjoyable pastime for those actually doing it and a grating annoyance for everyone else. I have jet-skied and thought it was a blast. Yet watching jet-skiers roar across the placid surface of a lake, frightening wildlife and disturbing everyone’s peace, makes me angrily denounce the steady decline of civilization itself.

I have never sang karaoke. It’s bad enough I like jet-skiing.