As my head hit the pillow and I slowly drifted off into sleep, I had no idea that I was about to endure the worst nightmare I’d ever had.
I was sitting at a desk in an office, as I often do in my dreams, as I did for many years in real life. I was surrounded by dozens of desks, each occupied by a programmer typing code into his or her computer. I was wearing headphones, listening to soft music to block the chatter from the other workers. According to the logo on my screen, I was working for Facebook.
Eventually nature called. As I prepared to go to the men’s room, I took off my headphones. And that’s when it began.
Frank, who sat at the desk on my right, looked up at me and said, “Have you seen this video? What happens at the 1:45 mark will blow you away.”
“Uh, no,” I replied. “Not now. I’ve gotta go take a leak.”
As I walked away, Suzy, who sat to Frank’s right, chimed in. “Want to see a picture of what I had for lunch? Tell me, doesn’t that tomato make your mouth water?”
“Yes,” I said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got…”
Maria, sitting behind Suzy, yelled, “Hey, check out this life hack. Peeling bananas: you’ve been doing it wrong.”
I rolled my eyes as I kept walking. “I’ve never had a problem peeling a banana.”
I sped up my pace but found myself in front of Ted, whose eyes were bulging. “Did you see the news this morning?” he cried. “I’m outraged. You should be outraged too. Why aren’t you sitting at your desk posting outraged rants like me? Don’t you care about justice?”
I tried to ignore him, but hadn’t taken more than two steps before Mike stood up and yelled at me, “It’s all Obama’s fault. He’s a socialist Muslim tyrant appeaser.”
Mike had barely gotten the words out before Carol said, “It’s all Obama’s fault. He’s a spineless corporate-shilling war criminal.”
I tried to walk past Sandra’s desk, but she stopped me and said, “These Buzzfeed quizzes say I should be a 1920s Parisian Confucian pirate hipster. I always knew it!”
I ignored her and tried to hurry toward the restroom door, muttering, “Jesus, all I want to do is urinate,” but I found the aisle blocked by William. He was holding a cardboard placard inches from my face. As my eyes focused, I saw that it read, “SOMEBODY WILL PHOTOSHOP WORDS I’VE NEVER SAID ONTO THIS CARD.”
Exasperated, I turned back to my right, where Sandra was now saying, “My second cousin’s best friend has started a business. Be a pal and like his business page, even though you’ve never met him and will never use his services.”
I kept walking but realized I was going in circles when I found myself back in front of Ted’s desk. “I’m so outraged by the news that I changed my profile picture,” he growled. “If you cared, you’d do the same. It’s the silence of people like you that enables the fascists.”
I began dashing toward the door but people at each desk began shouting at me: “Sign my petition to end…” “Look at this cat chasing a bear…” “You must read this…” “Bob Williams poked you…” “Learn the seven habits of …” “Somebody you’ve never heard of tweeted something offensive.”
Suddenly my path was blocked by Chris, who was standing in the aisle, holding a bucket of ice water. “You haven’t done the challenge yet, have you?” he asked. “Come on, I think it’s your turn to take … Hey, where are you going? Do you want people to get debilitating diseases?”
I pushed him out of the way and ran toward the door as fast as I could, but all I could hear was a cacophony of noise:
“Gaza … The Bible says … Racism… Guns … Beheadings … Insert inspirational aphorism here … Monsanto … Fake news story … Real men don’t … Ebola …”
“Stop it!” I screamed. “Please stop it!” I … just … want … to … pee!”
I ripped open the men’s room door and exhaled. I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath. I walked over to the sink and looked into the mirror. My face was pale, as if it had seen a ghost. I ran some cold water and splashed it on my face. The sound of the running faucet was so loud that I didn’t hear a man approach the sink next to mine. When I realized someone was there, I jumped.
“You startled me,” I said. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“A little overwhelming in there, huh?” he asked.
I nodded. “It’s one thing to see it on the screen where you can scroll past, but hearing it out loud? Yikes.”
“Then don’t go working for Twitter or Reddit,” he said. “They’re fucking nuts over there.”
I laughed. “Oh, I believe it. Sometimes the Internet makes the Tower of Babel sound like one of those monasteries where they take a vow of silence.”
“You know who has an interesting take on that?” the man asked. “Sherry Turkle, in her book Alone Together. She wrote, ‘The ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy.’”
“Hey, I just saw that quote yesterday,” I said. “So I went and browsed her book…”
“… on Amazon. Yes, I know,” he said. “They are selling the paperback for $9.60 with an Amazon Prime membership, or you can get the Kindle version for $8.49. Then, after you looked at Turkle’s book, you went and browsed the new Tom Petty CD. You know, you can download his greatest hits there for just…”
“Wait, how do you know what I browsed?” I looked at him closely for the first time and realized he had no employee ID on a lanyard around his neck. “You don’t work here. How did you get in? I’m going to call Security.”
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, but he just chuckled. “Relax, dude,” he said. “Facebook not only allowed me in here, it invited me. They’ve sold me your personal data, and of all the other people in there. I know your musical tastes, your political leanings, and your favorite sports team. I know where you live and what your wife and kids look like. I know everywhere you browse on the Internet and most of them sold me your personal data too. I even know about that kinky porn site you …”
I screamed. “Noooooooo!”
“Dear, dear, are you OK?”
I opened my eyes and saw my wife rolling over in bed to turn on her light. She had a look of concern on her face. “You screamed,” she said, “so I assumed you had a nightmare.”
“Oh, it was horrible,” I said as I sat up. “I dreamed that I was working for Facebook…”
“Well, that explains why you muttered, ‘Goddamn Zuckerberg.’”
“…and nobody would shut up. They kept yelling every thought that came into their head at me, about politics, movies, diets, pets, stupid quizzes. I couldn’t make it stop. Even when I walked away, people still knew everything about me, even though I hadn’t opened my mouth. I was even exposed to the opinions of the friends of my friends, no matter how stupid…”
“Oh, that reminds me,” she said. She began to give me that look, the one that makes me think she has a divorce lawyer on speed-dial. “I posted pictures yesterday from Marian’s birthday lunch, and you didn’t like, or comment on, any of them. What, I’m not important enough for you? You can spend time with all these virtual friends you’ve never met in real life, but you can’t spare a click for the person who bore your two children? You know, you have some…”
I laid my head back down on the bed and held the pillow tightly over my ears. It seemed to muffle the sound well. I hope I get back to sleep soon. Maybe this time, if I’m lucky, I’ll dream that I’m working at Calm.com.