Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's All About "Me"

Who knew that Windows XP could teach me a little lesson about identity?

The lesson was abetted by my 15-year-old son, who has more than a little of the archetypal Trickster in him -- subverter of the conventional, mocker of pretensions. Sometimes I will find, after I have been wandering around the house for a few minutes looking for him, that he has been shadowing me the whole time -- and having a good laugh, in the process.

Those of you familiar with XP know that it allows -- or is that "forces"? -- each user to create a separate identity or "login" name. In rather metaphorical fashion, some of the programs and documents from one person's "home" can leak over into everyone else's domains -- but what bleeds and what doesn't seems wholly arbitrary.

And, for those who want to put themselves under lock and key, a password can be added to each ID, to keep out intruders -- the kind who happen to be sharing the same household as you. (Could there be a worse sort?)

A few months back, my son added a typically sly twist to the family computer when he changed his ID from "Chris" to "Me." Of course, he is the most frequent user of the machine, so there is logic in it. But it would have been hard to predict its outcome.

Now, everyone who sits down at the computer automatically clicks on Chris's ID -- the one called "Me." We do not even look at the selections long enough to realize that our names are also there -- Dave, Mom, and so on. Instead, we see the word "Me" and pounce on it.

I mean, "Me" has to be me ... right?

My meditation teacher and friend, the inimitable Dean Sluyter, has a host of anecdotes that expertly bring the Buddhist perspective to everyday life. He is fond of saying that, in the movie of life, each of us assumes he or she is the protagonist. We identify with the hero, and the hero is us; how could it be otherwise?

When we are stuck at a red light, Dean often says, we somehow forget that there are a lot of other people who are feeling good about things because they have a green light. We sit in impatience, seeing only our view of the traffic.

Chris's shorthand XP trick makes this most basic -- and dangerous -- of assumptions clearer than I might like it to be, because it shows how instinctual my assumptions are about "Me." How many actions, on an average day, do I base on the automatic viewpoint that the world -- like the computer -- is oriented to my perspective, my ups and downs, and no one else's?

So I have gotten used to thinking twice about who is using the computer when I am sitting in front of it. Of course, the other day I discovered that my son had added another wrinkle to the fabric -- a new ID called "Me2."

The joke must be on me.