Remember to look up

My greatest muses being my own two feet, I set out from home this evening to find a story. Ostensibly, my quest was to attend a meeting of the ‘East Bay Green Drinks‘ group to discuss emerging green technologies. My simpler objective was just to meet people. I arrived at Luka’s Taproom and went to the back room to find several groups already heavily in conversation, with nary a spare chair. I quickly opted out of the awkward scramble to procure a seat and decided to sit at the bar and relax.

I met my goal easily as I tuned into a conversation beside me about google’s topographical maps, and unabashedly butted in with, “have you seen their new bicycle maps for the Bay Area?” For the next ten minutes, I talked with Aruna and his friend about solar charging technology and the BikeMate iPhone app.

I then nursed my Manhattan as I began to write. As soon as the glow of the small screen lit my face, my barmate on the left spoke up. He lamented that technology is causing more and more people to tune in, and tune out the people around them. While I agree that connectedness is a dangerous temptation, I stood my ground saying that while it doesn’t replace casual conversation, it is an extremely useful medium. With a slight tension, the Mexican construction worker and I continued to talk over a round of beers.

Recovering from a day of working on the soon-to-be-reopened Oakland Museum, Daniel talked about how his culture valued community and conversation. I gave him my card, and surprised at the 617 area code that I haven’t changed yet, he said that “you’re either from here or you’re not.” As another friend later pointed out, via Twitter no less, area codes have less and less meaning in the 21st century, but that just proves his point that technology marches over the past. He noted that I seemed European – not a hard guess to make – and went on to say that he was also Native American, and that as a people, we immigrants “have been through too few winters.” Given that it’s only been 518 years since Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1942, he’s probably right.

The best conversations between strangers are when a sudden shared connection is realized. When he mentioned that he is also a circus performer, I had the opportunity to say, “Oh, you too? I do aerial acrobatics and spin fire!” Finally a smile came across his face as our contexts came into sync. Now we were fellow Burners, and talked for a little while longer. As he paid his bill and got ready to leave, he pulled out a cloth to clean his glasses, and then handed it to me to clean my own. He also offered me a hair tie to fix what must have been a noticeable ‘bicycle helmet head’. Simple playa gifts in the everyday.

I made my own way home shortly thereafter, stopping first for a steaming bowl of Tai Nam Gau. I continued to write and take notes as I slowly ate my soup. There were two other occupied tables, one of which was clearly the owner’s famiy, and I smiled at a young boy as he wandered by spinning the ‘Open/Closed’ sign around his finger.

Technology is indeed a useful tool, but we must remember that it should never replace conversation or distract us so much that we don’t notice the carefree smile of a youth. ┬áIt’s important that whether we are travelers in foreign lands, or our own back yard, that we remember to look up from our smartphones and our moleskines to take in the people around us.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | April 22, 2010
Category: Vagabonding Advice

2 Responses to “Remember to look up”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Technology is useful, but there’s nothing like face-to-face conversation. You can’t get the full effect from a gadget or machine. Being too distracted by your cell phone, iPod, MP3, etc…could get you into to trouble. You could walk into a car that’s barreling down the road!

  2. Max Hartshorne Says:

    Love that 617 Boston Red Sox area code!