We have reached a volatile era of much debate about the sweetness and sourness of macro technology’s power over human life. The invention of the internet, for example, has swiped off every single filament of simple living, depending, of course, on one’s definition of “simple.” The millennials apparently have no clue about what life was like before the internet, and therefore, could only feel gratitude and euphoria for real-time access to every fabric of information that too easily surfaces by one click of the finger.
The meaning of “work” itself has been dressed with a different attire. What we normally label as a day-to-day job, that is, a monotonous 9-5 routine contained inside a four-wall box, is now miniaturized into a flat computer screen, or even a minuscule smartphone screen that you can carry with you in your pocket wherever the tide takes you. Satellite working has become such an indispensable option for maintaining a fast-paced job that cafés have to be designed electronically to make power current, Wi-Fi connection, or battery charging possible for these mobile laptop workers.
Music production today is woven as well into an entirely new web of digital transmission wherein music bands no longer have to be physically present to compile a single track or rehearse. Musicians send off digital tracks across continents using free file share servers and the rest is music editing wonders. Similarly, if you belonged to that generation of spending hours in a record store, browsing LP vinyl records, and admiring at least the jacket covers to know which best suits your inspiration, today you would have less than a minute to do all that once you log in to iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, and so many other music applications.
I may not be the only person in this modern world of intertwined cables and overly fine-tuned high vision screens who wonders sometimes what would happen if the internet was bludgeoned by some inevitably disastrous plague. No one would be able to read this article online. In fact, I have been to a restaurant in Tokyo that closed its doors to the customers for a few minutes because the electronic gadget for taking orders was not working, and the staff apologized that they would have to take orders by pen and paper. Seriously? It has become a common “joke” that Wi-Fi ranks as one of the top five basic human needs, and even I myself make it my priority preference in booking an accommodation. This phenomenon is a sure testimony of how humans today crave for technological convenience more than any fragment of human nature. However, did convenience come first before technology, or did technology give birth to convenience?
Since I have spent too many long years in one of the most convenient and digitally advanced countries in the world, I do at times carry the Japanese urge to stay next to comfort, speed, and efficiency. Once you get used to it, as the Japanese do, it carves deep under your skin, and some can’t even survive without it. Yet, the overfeed of these man-made facets of human living has made me feel “immune” to the adverse effects of ultra-modernity. Ironically, I crave for the less comfortable, less speedy, and less efficient channels of living simply because they remind me that life is imperfect and imperfection is human.
This is my quest for “escaping” out of Japan, at least, once a year, if not more, to pull away from anything robotic, rigid, and excessively prim and proper. While spending some time in parts of Europe where transportation, communication, service, and technology aren’t as equally as “perfect” in Japan, I have learned to appreciate these tiny stains of imperfection to remind me that “it’s okay to be wrong,” and to keep myself closer to the basics and, most often, minimalist.
Sometimes, when internet is not working or digital information on screens is absent, you’re compelled to open your mouth and approach a human person to ask “why” and soon, a trail of actual human rapport takes place. If you don’t find ticket machines working in the train station, why pout? So much the better so you can ask another passenger where to get tickets, then consequently strike a conversation. If you don’t see displays of bus stops inside a bus nor hear announcements, so much the better so you can move up close to the other passenger or approach the driver to ask what the next bus stop is. If the elevator of your hotel has become suddenly out of order, so much the better, who knows you could meet someone on the way up the staircase who would help carry your luggage and start to give you tips where to have the best wine for your dinner. If your mobile phone battery died out while inside a long journey train, so much the better so you can pull out a book to read or pleasantly view the landscapes waiting to be noticed outside your window. I am sure there is so much raw beauty out there that has been long neglected and overridden by YouTube, Vimeo, and live streaming.
If things don’t work as fantastically as you would hope for in post offices, railway stations, or inside airplanes, instead of putting up a fight or filling up your mind with stress, I have found it healthier to casually observe and attempt the next solution because accepting the odds means life is all about making mistakes and while we can’t control actions we aren’t responsible for, we can control our frame of mental expectation.
During one of the longest moments I have spent alone outside Japan, I believe I spoke to more strangers in the streets in two months than in the twenty years I have lived in this country. If this is what vacation should mean, it is my hope that people take it not for the reason of being able to tell themselves and others of where they have set foot on and broadcast it to the world on social media with their selfie sticks, but because a holiday rushes the human need to connect to culture, nature, and humanity in beautiful ways that technology could never offer.
In fact, one of my tools of amusement about traveling is the risk of getting lost. If I lose my way on buses, trains, or out in the dark streets, especially when I avoid the digital dependence on Google Maps, I don’t panic, but rather approach the situation with sweet pleasure, challenging myself to find the proper route by asking an old man on the street, the newspaper vendor, a shopkeeper, or if I’m lucky, a policeman who can show me his own detailed map.
Once, in a foreign city, my phone battery and charger both had gone dead, and as I was desperate to contact a friend who was waiting for me and whose telephone number I hadn’t jotted down, I bothered a candy shop lady to lend me her phone. She gladly allowed me to log in to Facebook on her phone with the help of her little boy who knew the gadget’s perks. It was at that time his mother started sharing stories with me. I savored this fifteen-minute human connection accompanied by smiles and laughter, realizing the warm results of a worrying experience. The human touch truly exists, and is wonderful as chocolate pistachio gelato! We have become too careless and oblivious about what really matters most in life that we fail to remember and embrace it.
As expressed by one of the world’s greatest creators, Pablo Picasso, “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”
Photos by Alma R. H. Reyes