I spent the weekend without Internet access. Yup. No service where we were staying, no bars on the phone, and a 3G indicator that winked in and out when the wind blew through the pines.
As it happens, I needed to get ahold of someone, and so I was a little infuriated by this lack of connectivity. But I was also reading The Future of Us, a sort of post-dated YA sci-fi novel set in 1996, so it was kind of apropos.
Do you remember 1996? It's far enough back to be a little fuzzy for me, but not so far that I wasn't already an adult. At home I wrote my papers on a desktop Mac named Mr. Halfagig and at work I scanned archival photos using an immensely overbuilt PhaseOne camera. In 1996, our phones did not pipe up to remind us of restaurants we want to try or flash online sales. We paid our bills by writing checks and sticking them in envelopes. In 1996, not everyone had an email address, and not everyone had a cell phone.
Now, it's a fact that everyone above the age of oh say twenty enjoys playing the informal conversation game History is Freaking Me Out, aka My Watch/Camera/Coffee Maker Has More Computing Power than the Entire North American Continent in 1962.
But The Future of Us is not written for people over the age of twenty, and blessedly avoids that kind of thing. There are references to phones with cords, and setting the VCR to tape Seinfeld, and the action is in fact triggered by one of those AOL CD-ROMs that proliferated like Tribbles in the late 90's... but this outmoded technology is never held up as something to smirk about.
Thank goodness the plot didn't necessitate the appearance of 5.25" floppy diskettes - because those things are never not funny.
(Actually, brr. I once had to install a Novell network using 5.25" floppies - there must have been fifty or sixty of the red bastards. There's a horror short story that nobody ever bothered to write.)
In 1996, Emma gets a computer as a gift. Her neighbor Josh brings over an AOL CD-ROM that came in the mail, and when Emma activates her account, a Facebook login screen appears. Huh! So she gets on Facebook, and sees herself in 15 years. And not only herself, but also Josh. And the guy she appears to be married to in 2011. And the guy she has a crush on now. And her best friend. And not everything is good.
Oh boy, right? This is a fantastic premise. Fifteen years ago, if I'd gotten a peek at my current Facebook page I would be SOO relieved. Also appalled. And really confused. Same with Emma and Josh. In a great exchange, Josh wonders who in their right mind would share so much personal information on the Internet, and Emma answers, "Exactly. I'm going to be mentally ill in fifteen years, and that's why my husband doesn't want to be around me." What is more, they find that the pages change in unexpected ways when they unintentionally react to their future selves's lives.
This gets real hinky real fast, as their lives, which are your basic teenage lives, which is to say not basic AT ALL, with step-parents and dorky friends and unrequited love and grades - quickly become a festival of second-guessing. Will giving Josh a ride to school change Emma's career prospects forever? How about stopping for a donut? If Josh's date wears strapless to the bonfire, does that mean someone's getting pregnant tonight?
Man. Sounds like having kids.
Without Internet access this weekend, I read three books in two days. This was the best - funny and smart and realistic in the best sense. Emma and Josh are great narrators, and the book is better for allowing them each to describe events in alternating points of view. But here's a thing that I find amusing - not to keep bringing this back to myself, but in 1996 I was 31, the same age Emma and Josh are on their future Facebook pages. At 31, I was married to the wrong guy, in debt up way past my eyeballs, with no idea what the future might hold. If at the age of 16, I'd seen that future, I might have run screaming to the nearest pre-law program.
So I can't help smiling at Emma and Josh's assumption that by the time you're 31, you should be well entrenched into the career and relationship and child-bearing activities that will occupy you for the rest of your life.
Ultimately, they learn some things about themselves, guided by family, Facebook, and each other. John Green fans will fall in line for this.
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