Alistair’s phone pinged on the bedside table. His sleepy arm groped for the device and Alistair squinted, trying to focus on the message.
You have a friend request
He had to read it three times. A friend request! He hadn’t received one of those in a long time. It was part of the problem.
He lay back and rubbed crusty sleep from his eyes. Light washed over his face as he held his phone aloft like the lamp on a dentist’s chair.
Who on Earth would be sending me a friend request?
There was, he knew, only one way to find out.
He swiped the notification aside, thereby opening his email app.
To respond to your friend requests, please log into your MyLife account.
Alistair pressed the link.
MyLife… He thought he’d deactivated that account years ago. Oh, well…
The MyLife log-in page filled the screen. Alistair typed his email address into the username box, having to redo it three times until his fingers work up and gave their full cooperation.
Please enter your password
What the hell could that be? How was he supposed to remember every goddamn password?
He tried the usual. He tried variations of it.
A warning flashed red: You have one more log-in attempt before your account is locked
Alistair admitted defeat and pressed the ‘Forgot password?’ option. He had to re-enter his email address and wait for a reset link to come through to his inbox.
Two minutes later, it did.
Now, what to choose for the new password? Did it matter, he reflected? It’s not like I’m going to need it again.
It was rejected.
Passwords must contain at least one numerical character
Please confirm your password
Alistair obliged. The box disappeared and his MyLife homepage swelled to fill the screen. Alistair felt a surge of recognition as he scrolled through names and faces, pictures of people he used to know. So-and-so’s eldest had just graduated. Such-and-such was getting pissed in a Majorcan nightspot. Whojimmyflop was ‘feeling annoyed’ and, evidently, craving attention.
Ha ha! They were all there, still living their lives, still chronicling every event, every mood swing, every cup of coffee.
Alistair was tempted to give the odd post his approval. Would anyone remember him? Would he be able to forge anew links with old school chums, distant relatives and his erstwhile friends?
His thumb hovered over the update button.
How’s YourLife? the screen prompted him.
Alistair shook his head. It all came flooding back, the reason why he’d sought to distance himself from social media in the first place.
None of it was real. Nobody really gave a shit. People just keep posting edited versions of themselves, photos filtered, to show how great a time they were having, to show that they were still living.
Oh, So-and-so has checked into a fancy restaurant. Such-and-such is at his kid’s football match. Whojimmyflop is debating getting a haircut and is canvassing opinions.
Who are all these people?
Alistair would bet they weren’t all as happy as they pretended. He’d bet So-and-so was overweight and that’s why all his selfies are taken from a high angle to hide the chins. He’d bet Such-and-such only got to see the kids every other weekend and only then with supervision. He’d stake his house that Whojimmyflop was a shut-in who spent all day in his pants, pounding at the keyboard, posting gifs of kittens and trolling celebrities.
No, I’m better off out of it, he decided. Better off out of everything. He had come to that decision long ago when pulling the plug on social media had resulted in his total isolation and crippling agoraphobia.
He reached for the bottle of pills. Time for some real deactivation, he thought grimly.
But the bottle was empty. Puzzled, Alistair sat up and leaned over – perhaps he’d knocked it over and all the pills were on the floor… He couldn’t remember taking them.
In his hand, the phone buzzed insistently.
You have a friend request
“All right! All right!” Alistair tapped the glowing icon of a little person waving hello.
You have one friend request from Saint Peter.
ACCEPT or DECLINE?