Those two jack-o-lanterns in the photo look safe, but would they be in a digital world?


Halloween this year presented me with a quandary. It was trash night.

I was worried about setting out on the curb our two bins of recyclables and barrel of trash. I envisioned marauding hordes of zombies, vampires and other teenage hooligans just itching to create mayhem, opportunities to spread refuse in my front yard distracting them from smashing pumpkins. Why, we’d avoided setting out a pumpkin to prevent such carnage. Actually I’d avoided buying a pumpkin because I wasn’t exactly a halloweiner and wasn’t interested in seeing one of the things rot on my front steps, even if it was a vegetable.

Halloween in our neighborhood is an event that rivals Christmas and the Fourth of July for the enthusiasm of our neighbors. Some of them actually set off fireworks, a curious adaptation of Independence Day festivities that is nuisance enough in the heat of a summer’s night. I didn’t quite get the connection, unless they were pretending to blow up zombies.

I seriously considered waiting until morning to put out our trash containers, but the idea of getting out of bed on a weekday any earlier than was absolutely necessary was quickly dismissed. Instead, I vowed to wait until just before I turned in for the night to complete the task.

The problem was, I’ve always felt that any work undone was - well - work that still had to be done. It would be hard to relax with that bag of to-be-recycled paper staring blindly at me from its perch in the living room, wordlessly pestering me while I tried to watch bad TV.

Finally about 10 p.m., I crawled off the couch and headed out to perform the chore I normally completed before even setting foot in the house after work. When I carried our barrel to the curb I was horrified to discover; not one of my neighbors had put out their trash. I contemplated the potential disaster that awaited me, my trash standing a lonely vigil without even the pretense of reinforcements, a single pup tent occupying Wall Street, a battalion of New York cops descending upon it, resentful of the burden it was placing on the city and the overtime they were being paid.

Still, the streets were empty and the neighborhood was quiet, the local artillery having ceased its bombardment. I went back to our mudroom, retrieved the recycling-bins, and never looked back. At bedtime, however, I did look out. With dread, I drew back the curtains to see my refuse containers still maintaining their lonely vigil. I went to bed, but I slept the fitful sleep of the condemned, which I essentially do every night.

In the morning I arose from bed, drew open the curtains and spied my barrel and bins still standing proudly, resolutely and defiantly at the curb. They now had been joined by other containers, less courageous containers, put out by less courageous early-rising neighbors. There were no broken bottles in the street, no grapefruit-rinds or coffee-grounds scattered across my lawn.

I breathed a sigh of relief and then realized. I once again had applied my quaint, outmoded twentieth-century world-view to the twenty-first-century world I now called home. There were no marauding teenage hooligans, at least not marauding through my neighborhood. Teens now marauded through cyberspace. Young hooligans now hacked their way through their laptops, creating their own worlds to torment. For all I knew, they’d spent Halloween in a digital neighborhood smashing digital pumpkins, digitizing their own trash-barrels and then dumping them recklessly in the middle of streets of excited electrons. They were tossing cyber-eggs at digitized houses. Maybe they were dropping digital doggie-poop in pixilated paper bags, setting them on cyber-steps and ringing digital doorbells. LOL.

My trash containers, existing quaintly in their analog environment, had been safe all along.

I didn’t know if I should enjoy the sense of relief or instead feel a sense of dread over what this boded for the future of the world. These teens were missing out on important rites of passage. What adventure was there in testing authority in a world you’ve created yourself?

But then I remembered the futurists who’d predicted that someday the cyber-world would be the world, the only world we’d exist in. We’d all be exactly the avatar we’d create to be us, the one we’d create ourselves to be. And then what would we be on Halloween? Would we simply choose another avatar for the evening? Or would we force ourselves to create a costume for the avatar we were? And what danger or mystery would that create? We could choose to be the pumpkin, and we still wouldn’t be enduring much of an adventure. I mean, how would we get smashed?

But, hey, this would be a world I’d never experience, anyway. Maybe it would work. Maybe it would be better. At the very least I could hope that in a digital world, digital trick-or-treaters could get full-size digital Snickers bars instead of those puny little "fun-size" Snickers bars with hardly enough nuts in them to pick out of your digital teeth.