People like to give me a hard time when they see with my iPad or even my neutered iPhone. “I thought you were supposed to be off the grid” they say as though they caught an Amish person driving a Hummer. “A-HA!” they seem to say with a smirk.
Admittedly, part of why I started this blog nearly a year ago was to be accountable to someone other than myself in my personal quest to abstain from what I know is an easily justififyable and widely accepted set of bad habits. That said, people seem to miss the point: I am not anti-technology or against digital communication or even social media. What I have taken a personal stand against are the myriad needless distractions that happen when we give ourselves over to devices with no boundaries whatsoever. No more, no less.
In fact, I am very interested in consumer technology and think it can be a very positive thing. While I’ve bemoaned things like Facebook as the modern-day opium, the new boob tube – full of rabbit holes and distorted mirrors – I was recently reminded of the beauty and possibility of technology.
In 1997, after graduating college, I set out on a 3-month backpacking trip through Europe. I went alone and envisioned napping in the back of hay-filled trucks through the countryside. What I hadn’t anticipated was the homeless person status I would strap on my back each day and that the novelty of seeing the sites on a dime would quickly give way to general isolation and sort of wandering the streets, sleeping on trains, etc. It was a privilege to go, but not all peachy.
After a particularly hard day in Brindisi, Italy where I was nearly mugged by some locals my age, I met up with another American who was boarding the overnight ferry to Greece. On the ship, we hooked up with two Australians and two New Zealand girls and disembarked on a little island called Corfu. And so began 10 days of fun and lighthearted madness at a time when I needed kinship and levity more than ever. A few cities, many drinks, and a dyed/shaven head later, we went our separate ways.
We exchanged mailing addresses and I even met up with one of the Aussies in New York several years back, but for the most part, the memories and the connections faded. This was before digital cameras, smartphones, and social media were commonplace, so I hadn’t so much as seen a photo of that moment time in over a decade. Email wasn’t even widely used, so while somebody may have mailed me a few photos, I only had a couple of snapshots, postcards to my now wife, and some songs to commemorate that golden time.
Cut to 14 years later – about two months ago. One of our crew created a closed Facebook Group called “Freebird Tours” – the tongue-in-cheek name we’d given ourselves at the time. Quickly he hunted all but one of us down and everyone was rediscovering one another. We posted photos, journal entries, song lyrics, and even video one of the Aussies had captured. It was nothing short of magical. In an era when we can – on whim – search for video clips or obscure quotations then share it with hundreds of acquaintances, here was a digital wormhole back to a single moment in time from our coming of age. Back to the future!
Then talk of a reunion began and we found a way and time to create a 5-way video chat connecting us from the US, New Zealand, and Australia. With some coordination and IT troubleshooting, we were all smiling at one another once again. 14 years on, everyone still looked wonderful to me. Kids, pregnant, engaged, writing books… there we all were for a little over an hour. We held up photo albums we coaxed pregnant bellies and kids into the frame, we sang songs, we laughed heartily.
As someone in the group pointed out, the whole affair was the best possible use of technology and Facebook. Instead of endlessly getting pinged about others’ comments on vague acquaintances’ daily updates, we were seeing and being reminded of distant memories in a way that would not have otherwise been possible. Gazing at one another in real time, we were each transported through time and space with a touching affect. Now we’re planning on a rendezvous next year. We’ll do our damnedest.
So, I guess my point is: Too much technology… bad. A little technology… good. A little more technology sometimes… even better.