Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate |

Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate

I received an e-mail today from my friend, Shanti, asking me to sign up for some online community site that’s like MySpace for 30-somethings.

“Friend me when you sign up!” she wrote.

“No, thanks,” I wrote back. People in my generation do not use “friend” as a verb.

Shanti is only two years younger than me, but still. We’re just different like that. She is the kind of person who wears her Blackberry like an appendage, permanently smashed against her ear or at her fingertips as she types away with quick, skilled little thumbs. (How someone can type with two fingers I will never understand.) She is the kind of person who travels with her own wireless router so she never has to worry about not being able to get online and is rarely seen without her beloved laptop, whipping it out every chance she gets, big green eyes practically pressed against the screen.

“You should get a harness so you can wear that thing around your neck,” I said during her last visit, when she brought her computer with her to the breakfast table.

As if calling, texting and e-mailing aren’t enough, she’s constantly sending me instant messages that are impossible to ignore, with the pop-up screen and the chiming sounds and the little icon that bounces up and down at the bottom of my desktop screen until I respond. They’re like a demanding child poking your shoulder until it hurts.

She says things like “I’ll ping you later” and is so totally not afraid of online dating, even though she ordered her first husband on, only to end up divorced six months later.

One night I was lying around the house watching “Sex and the City” reruns on TBS when she “pinged” me from Johannesburg, South Africa.

“im in j-berg,” she wrote.

“don’t you want to like, go outside and explore?” I wrote back.

“its one oclock in the morning here,” she replied.

“then go to bed!” I wrote. Then I logged off so she couldn’t ping me anymore.

Granted, she runs her own media company, and I do work for her, and she is my only hope for any semblance of a steady income, so I sort of have to put up with it. She even got me a new computer that has a video camera built in so we could talk face to face online, but I was so horrified by the quality of the lens and the clarity of the image (wrinkles and zits and bags, oh my!) that I permanently disabled it with a piece of Scotch Tape.

But it’s not just Shanti. I mean, I was happy back in the day when everyone had one phone line and you’d come home and see that red light blinking on the answering machine.

When you didn’t answer the phone, it was because no one was home. None of these long, drawn-out speculations: “You must be teaching yoga, or maybe you’re taking yoga, or maybe you’re with John, or maybe you’re out of range.”

What am I supposed to do? Update my voicemail message every time I don’t feel like answering the phone? “Hi, this is Ali. Sorry I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m having really great sex. I know it’s the middle of the day, but don’t bother leaving a message because I probably won’t call you back for several hours if everything goes my way. Have a nice day!”

Then there’s the paranoid friend who calls you seven times because they’re convinced you must be ignoring them when you don’t return their call five minutes after they leave a message. What’s worse, you know how psychotic they really are because it’s all so neatly spelled out for you on your call log.

“Turn the phone off and put it away,” I told my friend Scott the other night.

We were at Campo and he kept pulling his phone out of his pocket to see if his new girlfriend had called. His desperation told me everything I needed to know about where this relationship is going. “Think of how intrigued she’ll be when you’re not sitting there waiting for her to call you,” I said.

He shot me this really confused look, like I was speaking some language he doesn’t understand, and turned up the ringer volume instead.

My biggest pet peeve of all time is when people put their cell phones on the table during dinner. God forbid they should miss a call from that one friend who has to call back every five minutes to confirm/change plans 30 seconds from now. If it’s that important to you not to miss a call (pathetic) or you’re waiting for a call that’s really that important (lie, excuse) put the thing on vibrate, stick it in your pants and sneak off to the bathroom if you need to pull it out.

The other thing I hate is when people want to have these long conversations over text messages. I’ll get texts that say things like, “How are you? How was your weekend?

What’s new?” as if I’m going to sit there and scroll through letters for the next five hours so I can key in some kind of viable response.

Hold the phone ” Shanti just e-mailed me her response: “Come on, just sign up for the site. It’s our kind of people.”

I don’t think so. My kind of people go offline, not online, to socialize. They know the word “friend” is a noun. They know if they really have something important to tell me, the best way to do it is face to face. They know they can find me, at least once a week, in the pages of a good, old-fashioned newspaper. They know if they call me and I don’t call back, it’s safe to assume either no one’s home or maybe we’re just still in bed.

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