Mr. Max Madison was sixty-one years old when he had that vicious thought. He wanted to open an account on social media. He had heard many people talking about the internet and using words like ‘cyber’ and ‘selfie’; They were talking about a completely different world. In their world, story and status meant the same thing. “He posted a status,” they would cry out in joy. How can one post his status?
When his grandson posted a story, Max urged him to let him see. But it was some random images going from one to the other. There was no story at all.
“You call this a story?” Max asked.
“In our times, we call this a slideshow.”
“Oh, Grandpa, you can’t understand these things. It’s social media.” His grandson replied coldly. And Max remained just as clueless as before.
Max always liked challenges. He was a fighter. He had fought numerous wars for his country. A severe wound on his leg made him retreat from the battlefield. But he was always ready for a fight—was his age sixteen or sixty. So he took up this challenge—to meet this virtual world.
There was another reason for his decision. Ever since he retreated from the field, he had a boring life. He would watch a game on television now and then. He would listen to the crappy songs on the radio. He liked small kids, but he was not popular among them. Grandpa Max’s war stories of guns and injuries were not interesting. They all had the same elements, the same themes. A lot of people died. A few survived. Boring!
When the kids no longer wanted his stories, he took refuge in books. Not just fiction, he wanted to learn about the world as well. He understood science and commerce through books. The books taught him many languages, too. He would hop from one subject to another through the valley of books. But he could never understand technology—couldn’t understand the e-world. He wanted desperately to learn the e-world. Now was the time. His grandson Ralph became his tutor.
In front of the old desktop computer, Ralph typed the name and details of his account.
“What password do you want, grandpa?”
“Mmm.” Max thought for a minute. “123.”
“That’s too short and simple.” Ralph smiled. “We need a complex one for safety purposes. Alright, I will make one. Max12345#.”
“That will do.”
So it’s not a safe world like ours, Max thought. It’s unlike what I heard—that it provided a safe personal space to express.
“You need a good username too.” Ralph looked at him eagerly. “How about @coolpops?”
Max laughed. “Can’t I be @warhero or something?”
Ralph shook his head. “It’s not a striking name. You need a cool name for this cool world.”
“Cool or uncool. Whatever you wish, kid.” Max really wanted to be @warhero. But he needed to adapt to this world. He needed to be @coolpops.
“I have been meaning to ask you this. What’s that spearhead thing?” Max asked.
“It’s a cursor.” Ralph introduced him to the tools for that new world. The ‘settings’ icon reminded him of the gears in a tank. The ‘Explore’ icon was a compass, which he was very familiar with. The red circles around the people’s images appeared like a bull’s eye for target practice. There were many icons that he memorized as army medals and badges. In the end, Ralph taught him how to post a photo.
“I want to post my wartime stories first,” Max argued.
“Usually, everyone posts their selfie or photo as their first post,” Ralph pointed out.
“Okay. I’m not breaking the tradition then,” Max agreed.
Ralph took a photo of him with his phone and added a trending filter to it. Ralph chuckled as he saw it. He looked younger and more fair. But he had an awkward smile on his face. It’s not unusual. He always had an awkward face in photos, even in his wedding photo.
Max uploaded the photo with a simple caption, ‘Just a normal man on a normal day’. Then his finger hit the button ‘Post’. He was eager to see the reactions, but it was lunchtime. So he left it. After gobbling down his food, he rushed back to the computer.
Many people had reacted to his post within this short time. To his utter dismay, most of them were hate reactions. He scrolled down to see the comments.
“How dare he call himself ‘normal’? Like it’s some supreme position?” one commented.
“You have no right to define what is normal!” shouted another.
“Who the hell does he think he is? He is offending all the ‘abnormal’ people!” Another one expressed their deep concern.
All these comments got thousands of likes. But his post had only thirty-five reactions in total. This was an utterly new experience for Max. He had never encountered such personalities in his life. It seemed like Max was on a strange planet. And the natives were showering curses at this foreign visitor. Now Max saw what Ralph had told him during lunch a while ago. “Sometimes, people don’t make any sense there. Better shrug them off.”
So far, Max had smirked them off. Well, he had seen so many grenades thrown aimlessly at him. If he could survive those stupid throws at the war front, then some stupidity in this world was a piece of cake.
He was wrong. This was way beyond normal stupidity. Max realized he was facing a different species. But he was a fighter. He couldn’t shrug them off unnoticed. In order to explore this world, he needed to communicate with these beings.
He replied, “I was just saying that I’m a normal man.”
“Who knows what is and isn’t normal?” Came the reply.
“Don’t everyone know what a normal thing is?” Max shot back.
“NO! Who defined what normal is?”
“The English Dictionary!” Max replied, trying to ease the mood. It was a funny reply, but not for them. And the situation was worse than he ever guessed.
“Do you believe this old shit? He is joking about this serious issue!” It started with this sentence, and a flood of trendy curses followed.
“I said I am an ordinary man!” Max tried to hold on among them.
“Ordinary and normal don’t mean the same, you old fool!”
Even small kids cursed at him like they had seen the devil. Maybe the English dictionary was different in this world. This species had its own dictionary. He wondered what normal meant in that dictionary. Well, it wouldn’t be very different because he understood most of those curses. He needed to adapt. So he took a different approach. He edited the caption and posted the same picture again. It read, ‘Just a man on an ordinary day.’
The comments soon flooded in a matter of seconds. This time, they needed to know who told him what was ordinary and what wasn’t. In fact, he was offending all the other 364 days by calling this one ordinary.
Like before, Max scrolled down to see if anyone ever supported him. His eyes caught one.
“Leave him alone. He is an old man—” Max smiled, but not for long. “—an old fool dwelling in the sixties. Don’t expect him to know what ordinary is as of today.”
Enough of this craziness. Max didn’t want to hear these comments anymore. He decided to go on mute to communicate with these beings. This time, he posted the photo without a caption. With his clasped hands on his face and his elbow on the table, Max waited eagerly for their reaction. They were silent. Max heaved a sigh—no response was better than any response for him now. Then a hate comment appeared under his post.
“Do you really think you can escape those previous offenses by posting a blank caption?”
“Apologise, you old fool! #justice_for_abnormal.”
A tsunami of hashtags and derogatory comments hit him. He stood helpless and alone in that disaster. He was a baby, trying desperately to stand up, but couldn’t. Just then, he saw a familiar face among the ones who were giving him hell. Max looked up his profile. It was indeed him—Sam, his neighbor. The same Sam who greeted him and laughed with him nicely that morning. Why is he cursing Max now?
Max went to have a private chat with Sam. At least he would understand and help him out of this misery. But Max was in for a surprise. This Sam didn’t understand him. He replied to Max like an alien, just like everyone else. This version of Sam was utterly different—no longer that sweet Sam who invited him to dinner. He was @theSlayerSam, the savage who spitted out toxicity and rode along with the general tide of the arguments. Unquestionable. He had answers to everything under the sun. And poor Max hoped to post his wartime stories of bloodshed among these species!
Max stared at the screen as each new comment popped up with more words across various languages. He didn’t notice Ralph coming into the room.
Ralph laughed and said, “No worries. A simple trick would do.” Then he took hold of the mouse. “Just go to Settings, hit ‘Log Out’. Voila!” Ralph did as he spoke. Max grasped a bottle of water and finished it in one go. He needed it. He had fought the most brutal war in his life. And lost it—because he couldn’t understand what he was indeed fighting.
Somehow, he felt excited. He had seen a new reality, a new world, a world of strange personalities and definitions.
That evening, Max ordered a book online. As soon as the book arrived, he leaned back in his armchair and began reading. Ralph saw the book and burst into laughter. Its title ran, ‘How to be normal in social media?’