Category Archives: Digital World

Get More Connected in a (dis)Connected World

My uncle told me that I should pack a suitcase half-full when I left for Latin America for the first time. “It’s not for the souvenirs,” he said, “it’s so that you’re ready to receive something that you want to carry with you where you continue traveling.” That piece of advice has stuck with me for quite some time, and indeed I think I’ve found something I want to continue traveling with.

I think I’ve distilled it down into a simple word, “connection” and I know it’s something that I felt in Richmond from time to time, but now I’ve realized that it is a mainstay of the Latin American culture. I’ll speak about it as it relates to the basics of human relationships and in contrast to what that I had experienced back in America.

I believe that we were all designed to be connected to one another, and indeed, we’re built with a desire to spend time with each other on a regular basis, even if you’re not an introvert. But what has happened in the Western world, at least from my perspective, is that we’ve found so many ways to mediate our “connection” to one another that we’ve lost the fundamental touch points. Or in other words, “we’re not getting any closer to what we really wanted to get close to.”

We’ve got facebook, twitter, gchat, and an ever increasing technological platform for profiles and user accounts for instant messaging. It could seem like with more routes to a relationship, we’d have a stronger one. But for most of us, we’re so ultra-connected that we’ve become disconnected.

You could even say that with the increase of tactile technology for smart-phone applications, there is a proportional decrease in the actual touching between individuals. Take for example, an average dinner or coffee break with your average 20 and 30 somethings, and you’ll see most everyone seated about 2-3 feet apart, at an arm’s length, staring at the small digital screen in their hands, scrolling, tapping, sliding, typing  – but rarely hugging, jokingly punching, consoling, or any form of amiable touch outside of formal introductions or goodbyes.

Maybe it’s the limitation of technology or lack of personal finances to buy the things that divert attention from relationships that enables a lot of Latin America to really spend time with each other, and know one another deeply without the use of technology. Or maybe, it’s that there’s less space in the living areas, or the need to economically rely on one another until the individual is married, but I’d like to think it’s something more. I’d like to think that they “are getting closer to what they really want to be close to.”

I’d like to think it’s a belief that you don’t need to call to stop by and see someone, you don’t need a profile to know what activities someone’s involved with, you should touch someone to let them know you care, (for guys this means a lot more wrestling, poking, and punching) and fundamentally, that food is always a group activity.

I love technology and shiny screens, but to me, the fundamental question becomes “Will this really help me get connected to the people, places or things I really want to be connected with?”

[All these pictures are from a birthday party for Railyn, mi hermano Dominicano. Gracias a ML por las fotos 😉 ]

Why Don’t Kids Play in the Street Anymore?

I had a conversation with my Spanish teacher the other day about the games we used to play when we were kids. My brother and I used to ride our bikes around the neighborhood and spend our afternoons playing baseball in the field across from our house. Our neighbor used to fix up old go-carts and me and the neighborhood kids used to race those around the field too. I felt like everything we did was outside, and we’d only use the phone to call up our friends to come outside. Video games were just starting to get popular when I was young, but they certainly weren’t as important as rallying the kids together to go play basketball in someone’s driveway.

My teacher is from San Pedro La Laguna near Lake Atitlan. Born and raised in Guatemala, he never had much, and surely, he never needed much. He told me that when he was a kid, activities centered around these things:

  • soccer
  • making and flying kites
  • the lake
  • playing games in the street
  • fruit

I asked about the last one. Fruit? He said, “Yeah, you know when you’re a kid and something grows on a tree its like it’s magic, and you want to rip it off the branch and squish it with your hands or hit it with a bat or throw it at your friends. We made lots of games up when we were kids.”

When I lived in Iowa we had a few apple trees and I remember my brother trying to throw them as hard as we could at the fences so that the fences would slice the apple. To me, I felt like I was creating a superior kitchen knife. Not only was I enjoying throwing the fruit at a fence, but I was slicing it up for my brother and I. We used to do this with hours.

My teacher, who is younger than I am, then said, “Yeah, but kids don’t play in the street anymore. They’ve got cell phones and they like to hang out in the internet cafes and play video games, or they’re interested in watching TV.” I still see a lot of kids playing in the street around here. They seem to be playing the same games as my teacher did. So I asked him again, “It still looks like kids are unaffected by the modern world, by America.”

He looked at me again, “Seriously? Go walk around San Pedro and look into the internet cafes and you’ll see kids staring at the screens, or they’re sitting on the corner playing games on their phone or texting each other.”

I took a walk later that day, and it seemed like there weren’t as many kids playing in the street. Only the really poor kids play in the street, but every now and then you’d see a kid kick a ball and then he’d reach into his pocket to respond to a text message.

I guess things have changed.

Too Much with the Digital World

Now that I’m back in San Pedro La Laguna in Lake Atitlan, I am amazed that I’ve reentered the analog world. People don’t have smartphones and the internet isn’t ubiquitous. It’s a bit sad, but in some ways, I feel like I was too much with the digital world back home. At times, I was no longer making footprints in my life, I was only making digital prints, digital copies of memories, and losing touch with what it meant to really experience something without regard to whether I could share it, tweet it, email it, or post it.

It’s easy to live in the digital world. The convenience of information and entertainment can be addictive, and sometimes these abilities can become a competition of who’s got the the  most versatile gadget with the best internet signal. When I was home for three weeks, I saw clearly how much of my life was spent being addicted to shiny screens. Just take a look at my workspace below:

Pictured above are the following electronic devices:

  • HP Laptop
  • Macbook
  • External hard drive
  • iPod
  • iPod touch
  • Cell Phone (my same one from 3 years ago)
  • Droid (x2)
  • Kindle (x2)
  • Flip Video
  • 19″ secondary monitor.
  • 5.1 speaker system.

Now, a few of these belong to my brother, but seriously this is crazy. Here in Guatemala, there is a need for people to rent a telephone. When was the last time you thought about having to leave your house to go call someone?

For me here, it’s hard to get information. You have to go talk to people. Yikes.

I remember when I was asking about where I could find a guitar to play. A guy from the church drew me a picture. That’s right, he asked for something to write on and he drew me a picture. Strangely enough, some of the roads don’t have names, so he drew landmarks next to the location of the music store.

Here’s a picture of my guitar with his small map.

I’m live my life in two worlds, both the digital and the analog. I have a laptop here in Guatemala which is incredibly uncommon (even for travelers like me) and I’m posting about my experiences on my blog.

Slowly, the analog world is making it’s way into my life. Right now, I’m smelling the aroma of roasting coffee and watching the delight of a father and his sons marvel at the machinery of the coffee roaster.

Coffee season has begun in San Pedro La Laguna, Solola, Guatemala.

I’d love for you to experience sitting in this chair in this cafe, but I have to apologize because this experience is mostly analog.