Theater Review: Mike Daisey monologue was laugh out loud

Samuel Johnson once said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Last winter, during the time he remembers in his monologue “Better Faster Social,” Mike Daisey might have said the same thing about social media, as he reached the point of being completely exhausted by his formerly rich and rewarding online life. In his Jan. 16 one-man performance at Middlebury College’s Wright Theater, Daisey evoked a wretched year in which depression forced him first to withdraw entirely from social life and social media, then slowly find his way back to both.

There is so much public nervousness these days about the impact of social media and smartphones on the human spirit, anyone might be tempted to unplug completely, and even more tempted to unplug one’s children. Even the most progressive parents, not to mention educators, psychologists and philosophers, can turn into loom-smashing Luddites when they worry about the Internet’s grip on their offspring. When they glance down at their phones, will they forget to look up at one another? Aren’t they being sucked irretrievably into their glowing screens, never to emerge? Does having hundreds of Facebook “friends” mean never again having any “real” friends? The predictions are dire.

Mike Daisey’s tale confronts the same fears, but his final answer is different. He is loyally pro-high-tech in nearly every way, not an outside observer of digital phenomena, but a fully immersed denizen of the ’Net since college. His first girlfriend was an elf he met when he played a gnome in a virtual reality game. (It was true love, but they never met in person, and were tragically separated by a hacking attack.) A lifelong Apple fanboy, Daisey has been a chronicler of the Internet age, and his 2010 stage monologue “The Agony of Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” made him famous.

But last year, as his personal life fell apart in several ways, he found himself deeply isolated and depressed. The solution that occurred to him was his own death. Not actual suicide but virtual disappearance, complete and sudden abstention from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest. It was a wrenching change, followed by weeks of paralysis and emptiness. Nor did so-called “real life” instantly rush in to fill the void. Daisey described a long and lonely progression back to health, and his eventual return to Facebook, where, it turns out, he had real friends who missed him badly.

While all of this might have been a sad tale, Daisey managed to keep it funny. As a creative artist and performer, he is hard to categorize. He’s been called a monologist, a playwright, a social critic and a muckraking journalist. Watching him on a bare stage seated behind a plain wooden table, speaking for 75 minutes without interruption or pause, I’d have to call him a sit-down comedian, a keen observer of the difficulties of being human in the modern world, and never forgetting the human need for laughter, online or off. I say, LOL.


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