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This Inbox is a Prison

“I’m sorry, but the person you are calling has a mailbox that has not been set up yet. Please try your call again later. Goodbye.”

I sigh as I hear this soothingly robotic refrain for the thousandth time, but I also smile. I sigh because my younger brother – officially named David Sjostrom II, but “Davy” to everyone except the IRS – can really only be reached on his own terms. But I smile too, because I’m envious that he gets to have any terms at all.

Davy’s 38 years old and successful by every metric that matters, meaning that his kitchen, grill and pickup are all either nicer, bigger or newer than mine. But that’s not why I’m jealous of Davy.

The reason I’m jealous of Davy is because I feel like he’s somehow managed to reach a pretty comfortable stage of adulthood, all while avoiding the many aspects of culture and technology that are specifically curated to drive us insane. I can’t even leave the man a voicemail that he would just rudely ignore anyhow. I mean, the nerve of this guy.

But it doesn’t end there. He’s never had a profile on any social network, and only has an email address so that he can play Fantasy Football. If you’d like to leave him a message, you call his wife or the front desk at his HVAC shop. Any suggestion that he become further enmeshed in the nebulous mess of modern living – post endless photos of my nephew online, get in verbal fistfights on another person’s Facebook page, become Citizen-King of the Metaverse – is usually met with some combination of disinterest and disgust. A lot of people complain about the trap that is today’s technology; fewer still just refuse to play ball. 

I should clarify that he’s not a luddite in any way. He’s handier and probably better with technology than I’ll ever be. But as for the obtrusive, sanity-sucking parts of contemporary living? He’s managed to pitch his tent just outside of that dump.

So what is he avoiding? By my estimation, there are three primary areas where the life he leads will always be preferable to the one that has been foisted upon me and so many others.

His opinion of himself isn’t tainted by the empty validation of social media. How cute are my kids? How valid are my opinions? How good, dare I ask, are my articles? The truth is, I have no actual idea. It’s a sliding scale, where the voting public is likely far less invested in those answers than I am. The more a person cares about social media, the less likely they are to be satisfied by the return on that investment. The only sensible alternative is the one Davy has chosen.

He’s not as conditioned to worry about what he might be missing. I’ve finally broken free of checking my email on weekends, but this only makes my inevitable fit of Sunday Scaries more pronounced. So either I’m checking my email and messages regularly (thus making me beholden to them), or I’m ignoring them until Monday (and dreading whatever information they hold). It’s a doom loop with no off-ramp. 

He spends his energy on the things he wants to spend it on. Can you imagine a life without endless emails, without maddening social media trends, without even knowing what an influencer is? I honestly cannot. It’s the only life I know. And like it or not, we’re going to grow old together.

And so I’m left instead listening to the only voice that is truly capable of soothing my frayed psyche.

“I’m sorry, but the person you are calling has a mailbox that has not been set up yet….”

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