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Sandy friended Mike because he was color-blind. The fact in his profile intrigued her because she was in the middle of a course called “Patriarchy, Wealth, and the Meaning of Color.” He also liked Katy Perry, and he was nicknamed “Killer” by his frat brothers. Clicking “Add Friend” was easy with him.
The same went for Julie, Pierre, Maria, Wen Lee, and all her online friendships, 538 of them. Sandy had always been pretty social. Her older sister was the hermit. She didn't mind spending all night in the library writing a paper. Sandy, on the other hand, would hang outside the library under the plane trees, shooting the breeze with her circle. At least, that was the case before the social site got so popular that no one showed up, even on the warm June nights at the end of the quarter. They spent the evenings in their dorm rooms, updating their status. Sandy's was “Single.”
Sandy met Mike at a party a couple of weeks after friending him. Totally random; it was a birthday party for her best friend, who drank too much. Sandy didn't want her to be another statistic. Mike showed up. He was connected to Sandy's friend, one of the few women in the computer science department. Sandy recognized him immediately: the open face with a blank, pasty look of someone who spent all day in front of his laptop. He seemed nice. She was glad she'd put on clean jeans.
“So what's this thing about being color-blind?” she said to him as he sipped foam off beer in a red plastic cup.
“I mean, I think it's great that you're calling out the mainstream's hypocrisy by stating you're 'color-blind'”. Sandy used air quotes with one hand because the other held her beer.
Mike looked at her as if she'd spoken Paleo-Sardinian.
“It's cool to point out that race is a fundamental construct of Late Capitalism that results in police violence, economic inequality, and on and on.”
Mike grinned. “Oh, you mean my eyes. I can't see red or green.” He pointed to his temple with his free hand.
Sandy nodded politely, but his response embarrassed and disappointed her. She kicked herself for making the assumption about his politics. Color-blind! Duh! On the other hand, she wondered if the profile item was meant as a joke, or some strange way to manipulate people. Not her specifically, but people in general. Besides computer science, he liked psychology. Did he have a thing for mind games?
He offered to refill her beer cup and waved at her when he left with his friends.
Sandy thought about him, but she didn't see him again for several weeks. Not in person, anyway. She followed him on his social account. He was popular, judging by his friend count. She doubted he even noticed her emoji-filled comments. He never replied, though she wasn't alone in that respect.
She ran into him again at a dress-up almuna function. Turned out his mother was a sorority sister from 30 years back. He was standing over a buffet table, while she picked at a pan-seared chicken roulade with yakiniku sauce on a chinet plate. “Amazing anyone eats this stuff.” She stuck out her tongue.
“Hi,” he said, smiling. “I think it's some kind of coming-of-age ritual.”
“Haven't seen you around.”
“Been pretty busy. But I got some great news.”
“Cool.” She genuinely wanted to hear it. She needed an emotional lift after seeing the grade on her “Patriarchy” class research paper.
“I got a first-round angel to kick in a half million.” Mike beamed.
“I'm dropping out and turning my social site into a business.”
Sandy imagined her sister's don't-you-even-think-about-dropping-out glare. “Well, it's too bad you can't see the green.”
“Color-blind. Green. You said you can't see red or green.”
Mike's open-faced affect now resembled a disappointed deer.
“As in cash. It's a joke.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
Years later, Sandy sat on a park bench watching her two girls fly back and forth on the swing. Her boss at the social entrepreneur incubator wanted her back from her family leave. She thumbed through her social site feed, clicking “like” or “love” or “angry” or “wow” or “sad” or “ha-ha.” She wondered about that moment at the alumna function. Was she insensitive? Or was Mike so like other CS students, with the social skills of an artichoke? It was just a joke, but she remembered feeling sad when she discovered a few days later that he had unfriended her. He didn't block her, at least.
With no warning, her iPhone showed Mike's public page. He had 105,739,965 friends. Sandy was not one of them. The social site algorithm was displaying the page as a kind of invitation. He had the same boyish, open face that appeared as if he was afraid of missing something. An urge to make amends overcame Sandy, even though she was sure she had done or said nothing wrong. Clicking “Add Friend” was so easy. In the message, she included two hearts and a smiley.
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