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slimed by digital ectoplasm
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture

Man, I've worked with some really fantastic people. People I'm proud to call friends 20 years later; folks I hope to know for many years to come. Others, despite our natural chemistry and the sharing of a thousand pizzas and coffees and cigarettes (I've since quit), I keep only in my memory, for whatever inexplicable reasons people have for maintaining distance in the face of friendship.

But then sometimes – and it's a fortunate rarity – there are people I just want to forget completely. Inevitable adversaries that've had such an ill effect on my psyche, I not only want them out of my life, I want any residual smears of negative energy they’ve left in my airspace GONE. FOREVER. The idea that they might irrevocably occupy some part of my brain is not only depressing, it’s offensive. All I want is for their memory to just...peter away, down the drain of my subconscious, and with any luck...poof! Gone.

“TOO BAD!” say Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.

Thanks to the Big Three networks, our social and professional lives are so closely linked that the opportunity for an ex-coworker to simply fade from memory is practically nil. You can unfriend, unsubscribe, unfollow all you want, but The Friends of Work Friends Principle dictates:

Unless the people you’re following come to the same bitter conclusions that you have about a person, any number of unwanted, intolerable, and downright disruptive presences could be streaming their way into your world. Forever.

And thus we are haunted by The Socialgeists; heinous, uninvited ghosts from the past that pop in now and again to comment on a real friend’s Instagram photo of (insert image of child, meal, or traffic conditions here).

There are extreme examples, like The Boss who Gave Me Nightmares and The Two-Faced Backstabber. Then there’s the ones who haven't actually wronged me in any way, but through their own powers of rampant douchebaggery they’ve come to represent a particularly despised archetype, like The Transparent Opportunist and The Bubbly Narcissist.

I saw one today.

Scanning my Facebook feed, I came upon a post from an awesome former employee, and there, right below a link to (insert meme pic, cat video, or other predictable thing here) – HHHSSSTT!!!! – a red hot poker to the eye, a shocking affront to my social mojo: The Spectre of Ass, the smug fuckin profile pic filling my guts with bile.

Now, I’ll understand if you accuse me of carrying around too much anger. I get it. I’m the one that gives people whatever emotional power they have over me. It’s me not them, blah blah blah. Right. But we gotta pick our battles in life, and frankly I miss the days when I could just leave The Fuckers of the world behind in my dust.

Sometimes, while standing at random Cambridge street intersections, I’ll make eye contact with a total stranger who just happens to be someone I used to eat lunch with practically every day 7 years ago. This isn’t uncommon when you live and work in Boston, it’s just one of the reasons people are always saying how wickid small it is.

More often than not, I’ll drag the stranger’s name to the surface of my consciousness and engage in a quick chat about where we’re working now, and where we’re living now, and do we have kids, and have we seen Such and Such, and oh is anybody really surprised that the crappy web shop we used to work for went out of business? Nope, not at all, hahaha.

Sometimes I can’t remember the name and so I stare at the nearest possible advertisement for gum or whatever like it’s the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Or sometimes I’ll bite the bullet and do that whole awkward and embarrassing, “Hey...Man, uh...how you doin’...Dude.”

Yeah I do that. We all do. And because it’s in-person, non-virtual human interaction, we'll even act out this sort of basic civility for people that we genuinely dislike. Conversely, when confronted on Facebook by The Spectre of Ass, I practically threw my iPad across the room in revulsion. Online Civility: not required.

So maybe the Socialgeist is a digital manifestation of a more basic, universal truth; once you make a connection, it’s always there. The relationship doesn’t disappear when the context changes, it hangs around somehow, a two-way door just waiting for one of you to come swaggering through with a martini, bursting through with a job opportunity, or sobbing into the doorjamb with a story about a dead relative or god knows what. There’s a fabric called Reality, and when we hook our needles through any singe thread, our incredibly complex, limitless minds are forever bonded, like it or not.

Still, while I count myself among the socially plugged-in, early adopter, gadget and wi-fi loving herd, I’ve come to believe that there are some aspects of life that don’t need to be digitally enhanced (see: Star Wars and Led Zeppelin IV).

And if I think about it enough, the question that really gets me is this:

Who have I been haunting?


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

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tracey kelley
3.19.12 @ 10:54a

Socialgeist. What an awesome term.

I remember faces so much better than names, so I hate those corner moments, especially when people remember me and I have to start the highly investigative process of finding out 1) their names and 2) from whence I know them.

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