I never complained that my birthday was overlooked; people were even surprised, with a touch of admiration, by my discretion on this subject. But the reason for my disinterestedness was even more discreet: I longed to be forgotten in order to be able to complain to myself. Several days before the famous date (which I knew very well) I was on the alert, eager to let nothing slip that might arouse the attention and memory of those on whose lapse I was counting (didn’t I once go so far as to consider falsifying a friend’s calendar?). Once my solicitude was thoroughly proved, I could surrender to the charms of a virile self pity.
~ Albert Camus, “La Shute”
Like Jean-Baptiste Clamence, I used this as a tool to affirm my possibly unreasonable but quite strong views on the online world. With no Social Networking Bot to remind them, I imagined my online friends would remain oblivious to my birthday yesterday. I figured we’ve all become a bit pathetic – we click things without thinking about them, we respond to Bot-suggested niceties… “say hello” to this person, “wish happy birthday” to that. We do these things on auto-pilot but, without the prompt, probably wouldn’t do them at all – and this, to my mind, renders them pretty worthless gestures.
I’d become quite cynical about it all.
I didn’t particularly like feeling so negative. It’s all in that last line – surrender to the charms of a virile self pity – so I rose early on my birthday morning to seek this book, this particular snippet, to remind myself of Camus’ observation… how this kind of self-satisfaction is not a pretty trait.
Jean-Baptiste is a particularly unpleasant character because he represents the darker side to us all. Nothing else I’ve read quite sums up the human beast as much as this monologue. He is Everyman on truth serum. It makes for uncomfortable reading (though I’d recommend the book to anyone… it’s sublime).
In conversation with the lovely Jane Alexander, I mentioned my cynicism – how it was my birthday, how I hadn’t displayed this date publicly because I’d rather have no birthday wishes than a host of Bot-induced ones from people who ordinarily have nothing to say to me. I admitted I was probably being grumpy and over-cynical but, hey-ho, doesn’t the online world make you feel like that sometimes? I said.
So the mischievous Jane wished me a happy birthday publicly and over the next few hours I was amazed how many more birthday messages appeared – on both Facebook profiles, by email and on the Authomony forum thread she also started in my honour. It made me feel SO ashamed for all the negative thoughts I’d had! Here were people not merely clicking into a convenient little box proffered by the Bots, but taking time to visit my pages and write a personal message.
Thanks, Jane, and thanks everyone else for quashing my cynicism and adding an extra layer of cheer to my birthday in the process!
(I reckon Jean-Baptiste Clamence wouldn’t have stood a chance against the might that is Jane Alexander…)