Short Stories

Digital Addiction and Alienation: AKA, Words with Friends

 by Jeri Hilderley

I swore I’d never be like one of those smug young-uns involved with their on-line games and endless twitters.  But it’s seductive: once you’ve entered Bill Gate’s dream, you don’t have to fret the world anymore. You clasp your little rectangular gizmo and voila! You’ve made it to space-out Ville with all the other droids.

Out of the corner of my eye, just about everywhere I’d go, there were those furtive digits pawing at small glass windows, as if trying to get out. These endlessly dragging fingers needing their hunger quelled. “Impotent movements,” I’d snarl to myself. “No wonder the gizmo owners’ faces look haunted and unfed.”  Clawing on glass windows to get attention is never the way to go if you really want to find love! I want to stroke flesh, not devices.

And then a few years later, here I am a sudden owner of one of the latest gadgets, an I-phone, no. 6 or is it 7 or 8?  My left hand index finger is now a wand, whisking me into the latest and most breaking news. Even rants on the progressives’ betrayal of Marxism or the eyes of someone’s beloved, dying pet are now only a finger stroke away.

Wait a minute! Don’t I still need to shape meaning with my hands; grasp chisel and mallet, whack out faces and feelings, twist wire into bodies and birds, sink my hands into clay and pull out longings and dreams. Even though I’m on in years, am I really ready to let a single digit lead the way, fulfill my needs, satisfy my desires? I do tire more easily. But, what about my commitment to the whole self? My body/mind/spirit connection? My determination to lead an easeful, meditative life?

Let’s face it; I’m an imperfect and impressionable human being; I mirror all the others riding on this planet, agog with some new contrivance.  That must be why I turn away from the young girl on the No. 1 train, wanting me to smile back at her; why I don’t nod pleasantly at the couple my age tenderly holding hands. I’m hooked on distancing. I take the gizmo out of my satchel and let my digit carry me away.  I will look but not be seen; witness but not speak; dream but not make happen. Have I given up or given in? Accepted and allowed myself to be driven and led by the seductions of my digital age?


She could be older than I: those suave golden blond washes are simply defying the drabness of gray. Or, she could be younger: gold and silver are merely playful highlights to a neutral shade. One thing is certain: on this park bench I am aware that the woman sitting near me is acutely fixated on her hand-held instrument. She is not hooked up with earphones and no sound emanates from her gadget. Well, whatever inspires her finger-eyes-brain connection, I’m definitely intrigued!

I inch closer on the bench, but look away; I certainly don’t want to frighten her. Ah! Close enough now. Relax, shut my eyes. Don’t draw attention to myself. Head down, lids opening into slits, I focus to my right.

I see a miniature board of small squares partially filled with letters. Almost a scrabble board, the letters making words going crosswise and vertically. Some I don’t recognize: QI, ZA, AVO, WOT, AR. Perhaps she works with an ancient language? Others are familiar: BONNY, WOW, SHOD, ADAPT, ZEALOT, AMENDS.

I hold my breath: her finger is poised above a set of seven letters. Then she taps two crossing arrows, and with a gurgle of sound, the letters jump, scramble and settle. Again and again she taps, letters hop and fall, forming whole or partial words.

It’s been some time now, her finger has not arranged a new word on her tiny board. Suddenly, I sense a change in her attention: her glance grazes my face; she’s onto me.  Yes, I’ve been discovered. “I’m sorry,” I hear myself saying like a child caught in that perennial cookie jar. “I’m just fascinated by what you’re doing with your thing, your gadget, your gizmo….? Are you playing scrabble against yourself?”

“Oh no!  That’s no fun. I’m a communicator. I liked to play with others in the sandbox, if you know what I mean. It’s just another way of knowing that I’m not alone. Like if I wake up in the middle of the night from a bad dream, I pick up my I-phone and zap, I’m into my game. I’ve got thirty going at the same time. At least one person is always awake, playing as well. And lots of games are waiting for me to take my turn. You can do it too–I see you have an I-phone. Just download the app. You’ll never believe the words in our English language, at least I think they’re words!”

“Is it called Scrabble?”

“Oh no! This is Words With Friends.”


It’s 1:30am and I’m exhausted and stressed.

My brother’s stopped talking, has chemo burnt his vocal chords or is he depressed?

I’ve got to visit him, but I’m afraid to go alone.

Colorado? Fly over the Rockies in a small plane?

I’ll be uneasy and need help.

An unsteady lady hoisting a suitcase all by herself?

My partner can’t go with me–her job’s a demanding one.

On call day and night: a therapist’s work is never done.

So many disasters happening, notice the ugly names: Trump, Mayhem, Maim…

I need loving language in my brain: pais, pâs, hálá, salaam.

Fretting again: can’t go to sleep.

Too antsy to meditate, why can’t I breathe deep?

Melatonin used to be safe,

When deadly Lorazepam kept you off base.

I’ve got to get rest, it’s after two,

Alright, I will then, it’s the only thing left to do.

This can’t be, it isn’t me.

Addicted to playing a game with someone I can’t see!

Please dear God, someone, somewhere make a play.

It’s been twenty-three hours, that’s nearly a day.

Ah, my gizmo feels warm, just get it turned on.

Put in my code, and a swipe of the hand.

Here’s the bluebird and W—Words  with Friends,

And my awesome opponent, Justy with a distant sure hand.

ZA played nine minutes ago, HEH played at eight, DAH came at seven.

Well, she’s quite awake, just as I am.

I’m sure, even in sleep, she’s at ease in her realm.

She’s been playing for years; don’t be so over-whelmed!

Now, she’s jumped way ahead, it’s her damned self-assurance.

Two more weird words: DIABLERY and CLONS? Do they have denotations?

I certainly want my brain to expand.

I don’t think I can survive on my angst alone.

OMG, it’s valid, but states “no definition.”

Can I sue this App’s staff for fake dispositions?

A word with no meaning makes me quite insane.

I mean, there’s a reason I’m playing this game.

Letters and words…aren’t they supposed to connect?

And make us more human and less derelict?

Oh, just give it to her, she’s out to win.

I’ll play a real word—can I slip one in?

Okay, here’s a place. Ah, this will show her!

I’m up to her tricks; and I do not cower.

Will she somehow catch on? Have I made a direct hit?

There’s much better words when it comes to NITWIT.



Enough of this Thelma! Am I some competitive creep?

Play your words, Meany, and then get some sleep.

Well, I’ll take my time with the other two games….

Oh for God’s sake, she did it again!

The board is filled with echoic, guttural sounds.

I accepted ER and AW, but UT and AE? How can this go on?

But, of course, isn’t it usually known?

Virtual board games have rules of their own!

I didn’t make that bubble sound! Is it now in my ears?

The tinnitus has reared up, how very weird.

That stranger called Justy, she just can’t stop.

It’s another non-word. I can’t believe QANAT!

These wannabee words with suspect pasts.

No way do they carry reliable stats.


I think I’m ready for the world again. I’ll call my brother in the morning and be a flesh and blood friend. I will tell him I love him, how much I care. If he wants me to visit, in a flash I’ll be there. Scotty, my partner, will go with me, I’m sure. She’s been working so hard, it’s not fair.

I’ll pay for our trip and lift my own bag. And one thing I promise, I wont fret or nag. And never again will I tease her or taunt. I mean those Times cross words she’s crazy about. Not the virtual puzzles that make you annoyed; but the games needing pens and a sturdy clipboard.

Not one of her puzzles allows Justy’s non-words: XU, GANAT and FEASING are just sounds for the birds! I promise to cool it, dear Scotty, lover and friend. Those distant phantoms will come to an end. I don’t have to be hooked by enigmatic delight or dueling with strangers in the darkness of night. No, I’ll not play with conundrums of sounds, messages and signs. My anxious frettings without reason or rhyme. And now I must wonder, in fact, is it true? Have I really engaged in a queer rendevouz?

My only response now is to say AMEN. Or should I say, AH WOMYN, for a lesbian end? And here’s something harder to ask, myself, not you, Girl!  Some time in the future, if I do grab my I-phone and google, you know, her name? Will I find Justy exists in a physical plane or does Words With Friends spin apparitions? And those words allowed, that lack definitions? Are their meanings somehow locked into outré dimensions?

© Jeri Hilderley 2017

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