The Internet Retirement Home

Posted: October 28, 2012 in life
Tags: , , , , , , ,

There is a place where forgotten websites go to retire. This place, I think, is a squat sort of building somewhere off the M1 with a narrow strip of car park at the front and thick surrounding air that makes its rare visitors feel a bit like they’re wading through a bowl of Heinz cream of tomato soup. The windows are long and low-slung, like a belt, and through them, obscured only by a grey shiver of broken blind, high-backed, antimacassar-draped chairs line a lamp-lit room.

The chairs are empty, but the ergonomic beanbags are full. On the floor, on these primary-coloured sacks, perch the websites once heralded by Sunday supplements the world over as the things that were changing the way we live. The things that were transforming the way we communicated, the way we fell in love, the way we grew up, played and died. They did change them, briefly, in flurries of flesh and light, but as is the way with realities actual and virtual, eventually they got old.

The newest resident of the internet retirement home flicks through the five TV channels available, stopping only when he finds an advert break. Propping himself upright on a purple medicine ball, Groupon, whose stock price fell 80% this year, is bitter. He wasn’t meant to end up here, losing half his biscuit in a twice-boiled cup of tea – he was meant to be the shopping revolution, actually. The future of email marketing, and coupons, the new face of city guides. Instead he is the butt of a hundred open-mic-night jokes. Instead he is being marked as spam. Friends Reunited, sitting beside him, is trying to cheer Groupon up. Would he like another biscuit? Hm? Would he like a go on Friends Reunited’s motorised wheelchair? A gentle back massage? Groupon needs some air.

Friends Reunited, who has been in the home for almost seven years, is used to the tenants’ initial thorniness – those first few weeks where the ageing websites will be constantly refreshing themselves, waiting to be redesigned, relaunched, reborn. As Friends Reunited learned to its own tired chagrin, this will never, can never, happen. Not that Myspace, needling Friendster over by the tea urn, will ever learn. Or Chatroulette, who stands by the window, sadly flashing the passing cars. Nobody looks. But still he presses himself up against the window, his clammy, lonely skin filling the glass like a curtain being drawn. “Myspace,” he calls, shouting over the volume of the telly. “Dude, lets bong the urn.” He pads over and tries to remove its metal lid, splashing boiling water on Friendster, who mops herself up, resignedly. Ask Jeeves is on hand with a towel. Except it’s not a towel, it’s a tower, but he’s old, so nobody mentions it. Same as when someone asked him to pass the pepper and he gave them a leper, or that fateful breakfast when Myspace wanted the Weetos and instead got diabetes. That was a bad day.

Myspace stands in front of the mirror trying on baseball caps. “Does this one make me look relevant?” he asks Chatroulette, turning it round. “How about this one?” Chatroulette farts, sadly.

MSN Chat chuckles. He is happy here, because for the first time in  his life he can relax. There is nobody prodding him. He needn’t emote on cue. He can sleep all through the night.

The radiators click up a notch, and the reassuring smell of dust and heat fills the room. Outside, a light rain starts to fall, and with evening comes tea, a sectioned tray of shepherd’s pie and spinach, with ketchup for those who want.

The sound of chewing is deafening.


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