With the advancement of the internet, a whole host of new communication mediums have presented themselves. Far from e-mail being the only way to get a point from point A to point B, the internet now offers a range of different methods that vary from instant messaging to social networking. While all work on the same basic principles, the effects remain effective.
Unfortunately, the internet can never quite diminish the overall ability of communication that the real world has. For example, it is difficult to replicate real life facial interaction (except for with a web cam), the wavers and queries of speech (except for with voice chat and Skype) or speak instantly with a chance to choose and refine your words carefully (except for with aim, msn or yahoo). The internet offers no alternatives to this things, making the real world still necessary.
It is always going to be better going to a live gig than listening to studio music (except for when the gig is being streamed live), there are no games and trivia that you can indulge in as a family currently available online (except for MMOs, online games consoles and online trivial pursuit) and, obviously, the internet offers no options to engage with members of the opposite sex that you've never met before (I don't even feel the need to explain why this one is pure sarcasm). Yes, the internet is always flawed compared to reality.
Nevertheless, though they are hard to find, there are some drawbacks to use of the internet, especially when your online life begins to overtake your real one. The options available via online are always best used to enhance your own reality rather than to quash it altogether. Spending time away from the internet, most people realise how simple it is to exist without it. However, when the internet returns, that tends to change. There is a pull to the information super highway that matches to addiction to gambling or alcohol.
Matthew Cateland was a social surfer.
The gutter had broken in front of Matthew's apartment. A thick stream of water churned out of the crack, smacking against his window and down to the pavement, three storeys beneath, keeping him awake at night. Today was his day off, and he had been out till late last night, assuming he could have a lie-in tomorrow. No such luck. The rain started almost as soon as he turned out the lights, and showed no sign of letting up. The clock hadn't even entered double-digits when he finally gave up on tossing and turning.
He had spent the evening with a bunch of seventeen-year olds. They were alright, in their own way. Being the only one who was allowed to vote, he had to buy all the alcohol, but that had its own benefits.
"Here's the round," Matthew laid the tray on the table, wondering if they'd ask for the change. No-one did. Which was lucky, since the change had transformed into his drink. Towards the start of the evening, he had to buy his own, but gradually, as they got more inebriated, he was able to claim a little commission.
"Cheers, kiddy-fiddler." The bassist picked up his beer, slopping some over the edges.
"Shut it you. She threw herself at me."
"Did she bollocks. Anyway, you hardly pushed her off."
"I was smashed too, you know." Not strictly true. They all got drunk about twice as fast as him. Still, he had quickly gotten bored of her. She was an attention-seeking sixteen year-old who really shouldn't have been drinking, as it only made her worse. She was here tonight, glowering at him from across the table. Or at least, she looked like she was glowering. That may have been an effect of her make-up.
"Anyway, I wouldn't do it again."
"Got dozens of better offers, have you?"
"Shut up. Hey, listen, Josh."
"Mmm?" Joshua, their drummer, turned and glanced around as if he couldn't quite place where the voice was coming from. Matthew grabbed him by the cheeks.
"You've had far too many."
"I might have finished Stephanie's."
"Listen, did you get my email?"
"The one about the jazz-man? Yeah. Load of bollocks."
"Pretentious little beardy-man."
Matthew sighed. He had drifted into a thread about ways to make rock songs more interesting on Musician Talk earlier that day, and had spotted a post about spicing up the drumming. Naturally, Joshua wasn't interested. Heaven forbid he pushed the envelope a bit and departed from 4/4 banging things. He still had a lot of work to do to make this band something more than a three-chord garage band.
"Matthew, let's get another round in - we'll toast Lisa's birthday."
He still wasn't sure where the fivers they shoved into his hands came from. Didn't seem fair that a bunch of high-schoolers had more drinking money than him.
There had been three or four more rounds after that one. Matthew had shepherded half the group home, even though he could barely stand up. The panda-girl had thrown herself at him again, but Joshua had been on hand to intercept her. He had left them to make their own way home and staggered back to his flat.
Now his head felt like it had split open.
Yawning, Matthew headed for the shower. It wasn't a long journey - the bathroom door practically opened on to his bed. From there, you could almost touch all four walls of the bedroom, though to do so would be to risk tripping over the various piles of clothes, books, newspapers and dirty plates that littered the floor. In fact, on the second of the four steps it took him to reach the bathroom, Matthew trod in a half-eaten dish of curry, possibly last night's, probably older. He hopped to the bathroom, stepped out of his clothes and into the shower, slamming the water onto a scalding power shower (in his experience, the only way to make it provide anything approaching a shower).
Matthew emerged a few minutes later shivering, soap suds still clinging to his body, and in an even worse mood than he had woken up in. When the ice-cold jet of water slapped him in the face, he had remembered the council were digging up the road for some reason or other, probably just to fill it back in again later. He was committed to showering by then, and simply gritted his teeth against the cold. He pulled on a semi-clean T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and left his bedroom, tiptoeing through the detritus.
The computer was on, humming and whining at him. He had left it on to torrent a couple of films, a game or two, and several discographies. Unsurprisingly, the computer wasn't enjoying the experience. Matthew frowned at it for a while, then turned to his guitars. It was probably a bit early to break out the Les Paul, so he grabbed his acoustic, an anonymous dreadnought he had picked up for a song with his first paycheck. Someone had posted a heap of finger-picking exercices on Ultimate-Guitar, and he had been forcing himself to work through them. Carrying the guitar in his left hand, he shifted the mouse. The screen crackled into life, offering him a jaunty little notification that the automatic updates had successfully been installed, about half an hour after he had headed to bed.
"You tosser," Matthew sighed. He had been looking forward to trying out the new Civilization after rehearsals today, and one of the discographies had been some obscure sixties blues guitarist he had heard about in the Blues & Jazz forum. With a shrug, he opened Firefox and BitTorrent, leaned the guitar against his desk and went to scavenge for breakfast.
Bread and butter would have to do. Facebook. His portal into the lives of those who had made it out of town, those who had made it away from home, those who had made it as -
A wall post from Steve. Steve Kublaki. Lead singer of the breakthrough rock band The Bad Apples. Frontman, manager, unopposed leader.
The man who had fired him.
"Steve Kublakis: Hey, Matt. How's it going? How's the town going
anything changed since I've been gone? Just wanted to let you know we're playing at the church in a few weeks - big homecoming gig sort of thing. Wondered if you wanted to drop by? We could have a beer afterwards, catch up. Peace."
Matthew's fingers hovered over the keyboard. He considered answering. Passive-aggressive? Direct? Insincere and vague? There had been too many resentful, expletive-filled messages left on Steve's wall over the years. Ignoring was the best option, he decided.
Bookmarks, Guitar Work, Acoustic, Fingerpicking Lesson 4. So boring it hurt inside, as well as his hands. But he had realised how many amateur bands were dependent on strumming chords in their songs, and had straight away seen a way to make Anticitizen One stand out. Anticitizen One, a power trio - second guitarists just got in the way. The bassist and drummer were seventeen year olds, only really in it for the popularity and the girls. Matthew... he frowned at the tabs for a while. What did he want out of this band? Fame? Riches?
A little beep. "New message from Steve Kublakis". Facebook. He had forgotten to close the tab. Now he had to engage.
Steve Kublakis: Hey Matt.
Matthew Cateland: Alright?
Steve Kublakis: Gd gd. How's tricks?
Matthew Cateland: Pretty chilled. Day off today.
Steve Kublakis: Oh, you found a job?
Matthew Cateland: No, I've just been sitting around since 6th Form.
Steve Kublakis: Fair cop. So, you gonna make it to our homecoming gig?
Did he really just accept that I'm not doing anything with my time? Or is he just thick?
Matthew Cateland: In the audience, presumably?
Warning: passive-aggressive mode engaged..
Steve Kublakis: You what?
Matthew Cateland: Nothing. I'll see what I can do. We usually rehearse that day, can't really just bunk off like that.
Steve Kublakis: You're back in a band?
Matthew Cateland: Yep.
Steve Kublakis: Any good?
Tosser, Matt thought bitterly, Steve's overbearing attitude flooding back to him.
Matthew Cateland: Getting better, yeah.
Steve Kublakis: Interested in a gig?
Matthew Cateland: Go on.
Steve Kublakis: We've got two opening slots. Interested in taking one? Would be nice to share a stage again.
Matthew Cateland: Sounds cool. I'll talk it over with the guys. G2G, man, got errands to run.
Steve Kublakis: Sure thing. Laters, Matt.
Matthew made sure to close the tab this time, and went back to his arpeggios. His mind wasn' on it though, and he ended up reverting to a simple pattern just to keep his hands busy. Eventually, he decided it was a waste of time, put down the guitar, and headed back to the fridge. It was empty. There! Errands to run. Chance to take a little walk, get a bit of fresh air. Think. He shoved his keys, his phone and his wallet into his pockets, pulled on a leather jacket and his sunglasses (always be optimistic), and as he headed for the door, turned on his iPod. Humming, he took the stairs two at a time, descending the three flights quickly - they were dark and a bit dodgy.
He had forgotten about the rain. No way he was taking a leisurely stroll through that downpour. Before exiting the lobby, he switched the iPod onto Arctic Monkey. "Fluorescent Adolescent" burst into his ears. He turned up his collar, lent into the door with his shoulder, and started jogging through puddles to his local Tesco Express. Lunch was going to be ham sandwiches - not the Finest ham, either. The affordable, fifty slices rolled up in a ball and vaccuum-packed, not quite meat, but less than a quid ham. His next paycheck was due in a week, and his budget had been in double-figures for a week now. Matthew had been reading about it for years - yet it was only now he was actually coming to understand what aid workers meant by the "hunger gap". He'd pick up a pack of lentils with his last coins when it came to it, he did that a lot. While he was queuing, someone laid a hand on his arm.
"Matt?" A blonde woman, around his age, very familiar, stood behind him in the queue. She wore a low-cut top and a flimsy hooded top, only zipped up halfway, both of them soaked through. Her make-up was streaked right down her face, and for a moment, he didn't recognise her.
"Andrea? I didn't recognise you."
"That'll teach me to wear cheap mascara, eh?" she laughed weakly. "Wow, haven't seen you in ages! How have you been?"
"I've been ...well, yeah." God, she was gorgeous. He had spent most of Sixth Form in love with her. "What brings you back?"
"Visiting family and stuff. Gonna catch the Apples next week."
"Aren't you? I suppose... that's understandable, really."
"Surprised you're so sympathetic. All the rest of Steve's lot hate me for having been fired and perhaps protesting this."
"I'm not one of Steve's lot," Andrea said sharply.
"Sir?" the cashier prompted. Matt barely even looked at her as he dug a crumpled fiver from his pocket and handed it to her.
"Yeah. When they went up to London for their big break, he got cocky. I left him." Don't smirk. Don't smirk. Look sympathetic.
"Glad you grew some eyes," Matt said lightly, shoving the ham into his pocket and the bread under his arm - he had forgotten the re-usable bag and didn't feel he could spare the 20p for another one.
"You're hardly a fair source."
"On the contrary, I've got more experience with Steve's bastardness than anyone. I was his lead guitarist - we were closer than anyone in the world."
"Even you, I'm afraid." She laughed, and Matthew forgot. He forgot it was raining. He forgot his life was going nowhere. He forgot he had been eating ham sandwiches without butter for the past three days. He forgot the band that he had poured everything into had left him by the wayside as soon as they had actually gotten somewhere, in no small part due to his efforts. He forgot his current band had all the drive of a unicycle with a flat tyre.
Steve had beat him to the punch with Andrea. Now he had a chance to right that wrong. As Andrea finished paying - bottle of wine, bunch of flowers, packet of cigarettes, he laid a hand on her elbow.
"Listen, I'm just up the road. Do you want to get out of the rain a bit? You can tell me all about London."
"Sounds great! I've got an hour to kill. You'll never believe the wonders I've seen down there."
Note to self: Whip band into shape. Accept opening for The [Terribly] Bad Apples. Become awesome in every conceivable way. Sweep Andrea off her feet, preferably in front of Steve. This time next year, we'll be millionaires.
The oily hands of the mechanic were being run all across the clean, red finish of the wreckage that Hugh had brought in. Far from just being dented, the front of the car had been smashed and crumpled to the point that the engine itself was on display in several places. The headache and potential concussion from the crash weren't important; Hugh's father was simply going to kill him when he found out just how bad the damage was.
"Well, this isn't going to be an easy job," explained the mechanic. He was a bulky sort, well toned and tall, as the job would likely require. "There's a lot we'll have to do to sort it back into some sort of reasonable look. I fancy a look at these tyres too - bit of a death trap right there. Engine's mostly fine; bit old and knackered but not broke, so no need to fix it. You know, you got off pretty lucky. It's mostly just outside damage instead of internal. We can fix it. It'll cost."
"How much?" Hugh asked in reply.
He had spent a long time sitting in the waiting room while his vehicle was examined from top to bottom. The garage itself was not quiet. Always, a mechanic or a group of them would be knocking things into place, tightening bolts, messing with wiring or just grinding parts apart. The effects of his concussion were still a little present, leaving Hugh experiencing short periods of dizziness and nausea every now and then. It wasn't pleasant, but this was somewhere that he had to be.
Slowly, the mechanic pulled a notepad from his back pocket and started sketching out numbers with a stub of a pencil from another pocket. There were a few moments of nervousness while Hugh considered quite how high a number he would be expected to pay, but the question didn't hang over his head for long. The mechanic ripped off the piece of paper from his pad and passed it over to Hugh.
"How are you going to pay?" he asked a moment later.
Looking down at the number in front of him, Hugh felt a piece of himself die. That was an extremely good question.