Once in the 1990s while I was hitchhiking in Australia, a man who picked me up offered me lunch at his home. There he espoused what I considered to be a conspiracy theory about the global governments and corporations preparing to implant bar codes and electronic chips in people so the powers that be could track everyone and influence what they do, what they bought and how they thought. I listened, thanked him for the meal and went on my way, appreciative of the kind but crazy guy who had given me a ride on my journey.
Fast-forward more than 25 years and I again found myself on the overseas road last week, this time in Europe, and discovered the Australian guy had been right for the most part. There weren’t bar codes on people’s foreheads but their noses and thumbs were buried in the tracking device known as the smartphone. It was amazingly rare to not see someone thumbing through a device, whether it was in the airport or on the street. There was less direct communication between people and more reliance on the computer that just about everyone now carries in their pocket.
I too used that device and it came in handy. Unlike my previous travels where you had to interact with people to get where you were going, it was easy to pull up the offline map and follow the blue dot to the Louvre or the Anne Frank House. A few days into this latest trip Diane and I consciously tried to let the Universe guide us to a restaurant instead of Yelp. Instead of using a voice on the phone with a translation app, I mangled the language in the corner Paris grocery store and café but was rewarded with warm interactions and recommendations of what to buy or order. Hopping on rental bikes in Amsterdam, we would just pick a person and follow them for a while to see where we ended up. We still don’t know exactly where we were but it was beautiful and interesting.
I can’t even recall how we travelled and stayed in touch with friends we met on the road in the old days. Now it is so easy to share some contact info and trade beautiful photos. It is pretty wild when you think about it. The smartphone is a miracle.
But that miracle is lacking (and somewhat frightening) in some respects if you follow your nose too far down the rabbit hole of the smartphone. Choosing to go with a positive online review from Cathy in Chicago of where to grab a bite instead of stopping to ask a local for the best place for a kabob defeats not just the purpose of travel to discover new adventures but also continues to separate us all as human beings. That interaction between real people happens less and less with the easy access to Facebook “friends” no matter where you are in the world. Seeing ads on websites based on something you wrote on Facebook confirms the tracking element my Australian friend predicted decades ago, long before smartphones were even a reality. The government and corporations are indeed doing what they can to track and influence your actions.
Returning home after a few weeks the drive up-valley in the middle of September during a vibrant fall made us appreciative that this is where we return after an adventure. It is as beautiful a place in the world as one can find. And the fact we came home to sad news of more than one tragedy of people who left this life for the next chapter reinforced the power of the place and the people here.
Gathering Sunday to celebrate the life of a young man who graduated from high school with my son again demonstrated the power of real community. In good times and sad, this place gathers to celebrate and mourn. We hold one another up and share energy through hugs and stories. Stories of the fiercely protective 24-year-old man who brought smiles to his friends and family while hiding a dark depression that led him to a dark decision. The story of the Crested Butte high school boy who scored two soccer goals for his mother who had just passed and then kissed the ground in her honor. There will be stories told this weekend of a kind soul and Flauschink Has-been who left the world too soon. This community is made up of real stories shared by real people. Even in sad times the goodness of this community shines. We will all eventually pass through this dimension of life so we might as well do it together and in real life—not just virtually on the computer. This community is good at that. Thank God.
While the smartphone can certainly be a powerful and useful tool, do not forget to take the time to actually interact with your friends and neighbors in person and not just through Instagram. The reward of real interaction, whether here at home or on the road across the ocean, is far more valuable than a couple more “likes” on the web. The guy who picked me up in Australia decades ago was not wrong: People are too easily being herded by the government and corporate powers that be … not through mandatory bar codes but through voluntary comfort and convenience.
Don’t become addicted to that comfort and convenience. Use the tool and try not to let the tool use you. Keep in touch with the real, whether in Paris or Amsterdam but especially in Crested Butte. Embrace the reality of wherever you are and understand only good things will happen if you do.