A narrative essay written for UMN on how technology has integrated into our lives. I wrote this from the point of view of my little sister. Also, this was written right after I finished reading Flannery O’Connor, so if it is dark, that is why.
At seven years old, I stand on the porch, withdrawing into the inner compartment of my mind where I establish myself when I cannot bear to be a part of what is going on around me. From it I can see out and judge but in it I am safe from any kind of penetration. From it I can see my mother beating my sister to the ground.
This is because my sister cannot find her Nintendo.
Mother leaves her on the ground, and I watch as after a while my sister gets up on her own. She hobbles to Mother’s handbag, rummages through it and comes up victorious with a black Nintendo. I turn away from this vignette of my childhood with a frown. I do not linger on my confusion and try to erase the memory.
At seven years old, I protect my Nintendo with my life.
A decade later, the era of pink Gameboy DS and Tamagotchis is long gone. I am applying to universities in America and my older sister is just short of being admitted to a mental hospital.
Life is great.
I can hear the screams of my sister as I scroll through my Instagram feed, wondering how to improve my photography skills. The sky outside is a dying violet. It is pretty but there is not enough lighting for it to look good on iPhone camera. As the screams get louder, I withdraw into my mental bubble, and from it I see the world with clarity.
From it, I am only ten years old, looking out into the world from a restaurant table of some Chinese place. Father is scolding me for being on my Nintendo when I should be eating. Beside me, my sister eats quietly and avoids conversations with our cousins. I put my Nintendo down although my hands ache for it.
My soul expands momentarily at this scene from the past but quickly shrivels when I become aware of a door slamming in the life of my seventeen year-old self. I put down my iPhone and sighs as Mother proceeds to scream at my sister for screaming.
I come out of my room to find a familiar sight. Mother is about to beat my sister. Years of isolation and violence have made her receptive to oncoming threat. She pushes Mother away before a blow is able to land.
“You are going to Hell! You dare push me?” Mother gives a vicious scream.
Not knowing what washes over me, I come forward as my sister tries to run away and kicks her to the ground. This is what she gets for pushing our mother.
The next day, after getting ready for school, I emerge from my room to find my sister’s blood painted on my door in the letter X.
My hand shakes as I take out my phone and wonder if I should take a picture of it for proof. Proof that my sister is crazy. Proof that my life deserves sympathy. Proof that I need to get out.
This is stupid, I tell myself. I put my phone away.
Technology is a bane, but as I take notes in English class and secretly surf Sparknotes, the part of myself that is not overruled by emotions indicates otherwise. I am a rational human being who sees the world with calm objectivity, and technology is only a tool, neither good nor bad.
I go to Wikipedia and read up on mental illnesses. I spend four hours inside the virtual black hole and somehow emerges on the other side from a page on 18th century newsboy cap.
When I come home, I tell my sister this, “I know how you feel.”
“You cannot possible know how I feel.”
And she is right. Just because I read about it doesn’t automatically mean I can understand.
Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away. Long gone are the days where I need my sister’s help for homework and then some. The future is a sheet of blank paper, and only my will can leave footprints on it. If I remember correctly “be nicer to my sister” is a line on my New Year’s Resolution list.
We are eighteen and twenty and I have just come down stairs to my sister typing away on her laptop. Things are changing in this fast-paced world. My sister no longer gets lost in the shuffle. She now shuffles along with the lost.
“What are you doing?” I ask her.
“Revising my manuscript. My editor wants it done by Wednesday,” she says, not looking up from the screen.
“No. The day after tomorrow. Time-zone difference.”
“Still. You should’ve started sooner,” I tell her.
“Maybe. Maybe I just like racing against time.”
“You don’t like racing against time. You’re lazy.”
“That too.” The sound of her fingertips against the keyboard slowly subsides. She stares at her laptop but I can tell she isn’t seeing anything. “Y’know, there is this thing called the internet and…”
“Never mind,” she says. Her hands shake from all the medications she used to take. Some things just don’t go away even after it’s over. “You are leaving soon.”
“Y’know, I’m so used to hearing the sound of your footsteps. I never really think about it,” she says. “Now I imagine not hearing them… Actually, I’ve been imagining long silences, and after I heard you come down the stairs just now, I realised this: I’m going to miss you.”
My mouth goes dry. I try to swallow. “You are being poetic. Stop it.”
My sister chuckles, and it’s a sound I will always wish to hear over her screams.
“Look, we can always talk,” I tell her. “Over the internet. On Skype or Line. And I’ll send you pictures.”
I think back to the middle-grade story I once read by the American author Rick Riordan. It is a series my sister introduced me to half a decade ago. In The House of Hades, there is a line that says, “Magic is neither good nor evil. It is a tool, like a knife. Is a knife evil? Only if the wielder is evil.” I believe the same can be said about technology. Whether we use it for the benefit of others, such as starting campaigns or spreading awareness, or against them, like fat-shaming other users on social medias or telling people to go kill themselves, is entirely up to us. It reflects how we are as human beings, not only just the good or the evil, but rather which side we choose to act upon.
Starting out as a sort of luxury that would get us scolded and sometimes even beat up, technology has become a concept so integrated into our lives that it exists in every nook and cranny, like the ‘80s convenience stores. You turn a corner and it is there. Technology is a part of all the turning points of our lives—a sometimes annoying part, sure, but definitely a part none of us can live without.
My sister’s editor lives in the UK while my sister resides in Thailand, and the advancement of technology still amazes me. They are able to collaborate albeit the distance. It changes how we communicate, how we receive information, the way we work, the way we act around dinner tables, how we preoccupy ourselves and then some.
I watch my sister as she collects facts about the twenty-first century like stamps. Years of isolation has made her clueless and out of loop with the modern world. To her, the internet is a fathomless mystery and why did they change Daylights Saving Time? Is it broken? And — whoa! — where in the world do they fit all the people?
“Seriously, what are those?”
“Flat iron. This is a straightener.”
“There’s more than one thing for flattening hair?”
“There are lots of things.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to.”
The snow from my dorm window is turning the scenery an innocent white. I wonder whether or not I can do the same thing too. As I watch, the tide of light seem to sweep from under me, postponing from moment to moment my return into the world of technology.