There’s an old computer command that you can use to check if a remote machine has crashed – it’s called “ping”. So you can ping a machine, say one called Captain Carrot, and get the response “Captain Carrot is alive”. If the machine is down, or the network is down between you and the machine, you will eventually get “No response from Captain Carrot.”
Far back in the mists of time, when I was a postgrad, this was a handy shorthand among computer scientists. If I hadn’t heard from Fred for a while, but didn’t have anything particular to say, I’d just send a ping: “Ping Fred”. Usually I’d get the response “Fred is alive.”
Occasionally I’d get something more creative, like “Fred has been eaten by his thesis.” Either way, it would trigger a conversation, of varying length depending on the ferocity of the thesis. It was a light way of checking in with each other. Ping says “I’m thinking of you, how ya doin’?”
It says “I don’t want to interrupt, but I’m here and want to stay connected. If you’ve got time, let’s chat. If not, just know that I’m here.”
It says “I’ve got a moment of spare time, and thought of you.”
These days our spare time is spent trawling the web, reading status updates, and watching meaningless youtube vidoes. When I have a moment free, I sit down and check my email, then trawl various news websites, read various articles I’m only marginally interested in, and check a host of social networking sites. I used to sit down, breathe, think of a friend and ping them.
Of course, there’s no need for pings these days. After all, we see Fred’s status updates on his social media of choice, and he sees ours. We know what’s going on in his life, right?
Notwithstanding the tendency of platforms like Facebook to heavily trim the number of updates that you actually see, hands up if you post everything that’s going on with you online? Do you post the huge argument you had with your boss (who, incidentally, you are friends with on facebook)? The health dramas going on in your family? Every last detail of your fears, worries, and uncertainties?
Few people do. We all have lines we don’t cross when it comes to broadcasting our lives (even me, tough though that may be to believe). And even if we did post it all online, clicking “like” doesn’t come close to a ping. Clicking “like” says “I saw what you posted”. Ping says “I thought of you of my own accord and wanted to see how you’re doing”.That’s when I think of you
It’s all that I can do
I’d go mad if it wasn’t for you If not for the thought of you The promise of dreams come true I’d go mad if it wasn’t for you.
“That’s when I think of you”. 1927.
Even the facebook “poke”, more often than not, means little more than “Facebook suggested I poke you”.
Ping often leads to coffee or lunch. At the very least, it is a brief two way interaction. Clicking “like” leads to… well… to scrolling off the page. Moving on. Trawling the endless interwebs in search of lolcats.
Maybe we computer scientists were on to something with this “ping” stuff. Maybe the humble ping is a way of reconnecting in our highly connected but oddly detached world.
On that note, I have to go. Things to do, people to ping.