Posts Tagged ‘people’

Night Train

May 2, 2009

This blog post on BraveNewTraveler really touched me. In fact, it shot bolts of lighting down my back. When we think about the risks of traveling, we’re usually concerned with practical matters like health, money, and safety. But there are other risks involved. There’s the risk that the experience will change us in an irreversible way; we will come home a changed person. People may not recognize us. People may question our ethics, call us fake, try to bring us back to the real world. But this change we experience may be permanent. When we travel, especially when we travel alone, we are going on a psychological journey as much as we’re going on a physical journey. We meet people, and in those fleeting conversations we share with drunk philosophers on a night train may begin a catastrophic slippery slope of self-examination.

I recall a moment I had several months before the night train. It was my first week in London, and I’d gone out to a goth club with a few new British friends. They all flaked out by the end of the night and left, victims of too much drink and and too many strobe lights. I had to get home on my own. Trying to navigate home after the Tube is closed is not just a terrifying experience, but it is also a deep sociological moment. People are animals, and at three in the morning on a night bus, we can truly experience the carnal nature of human beings first-hand. It changes our perception of humanity. It scares the living daylights out of us, yes, but it also reveals our own mettle; being a stranger in a strange land gives us balls. There are certain things that still scare me: bees, heights, and people. But as I travel from place to place, my fear of people mutates. While the fear of people and what they are capable has not diminished, I am also aware of their capacity to seek fellowship in strange situations.

I was on a night train coming back from Barcelona to Paris. I was utterly alone. A victim of insomnia and the earth-shattering tremors of fear, I stared out the window as Spain at midnight rushed by, a kaleidoscope of dimly lit shacks and power lines. The majestic Spanish countryside was masked under an impenetrable shade of black.The door of the train car opened. An old man dressed in a cycling suit hobbled towards me and asked in a thick British accent if I spoke English. The world broke. I smiled and laughed. It was an incredible relief. He asked if I knew what station the train was going to pull into; I knew Paris very well by this point, so I pulled out my map and gave him a little tour of the city. The rest of the night we smoked cigars and drank whiskey. I learned a lot from the old man; he cycled from Paris down to Barcelona–on his own. He was a remarkable human being. At the end of our conversation, I asked if I could take his picture. He agreed, and now I have a photograph of an old, eccentric Englishman on my computer. A man who was my savior on that lonely and terrifying night.

Thanks, Chris.

-Michael

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Technology as a Tool and a System… and my Grandparents

April 14, 2009

“Metaphors matter. People who see technology as a tool see themselves controlling it. People who see technology as a system see themselves caught up inside it. We see technology as part of an ecology, surrounded by a dense network of relationships in local environments. Each of these metaphors is “right,” in some sense; each captures some important characteristics of technology in society. Each suggests different possibilities for action and change (Nardi, O’Day 27).”

In Nardi and O’Day’s discussion of technology as a tool, text, system and ecology, this paragraph sums up some of the major points that are made throughout the essay. From a post-humanist standpoint, I can understand the metaphor of technology as a tool in that when people embrace a technology and find use in it, they view it in a context where they are in complete control of it. This is true for those who maintain technological literacy and are keen to adapt to new technologies as they become available. When one falls behind in technological literacy or maintains an overly humanist viewpoint, they are no longer riding the crest of the wave so-to-speak. Instead of being on the forefront of new technologies, they may find themselves swept up in the technology, befuddled and lost.
This metaphor of technology as a system, where one is caught up inside and enveloped by it is useful in terms of the stigma usually attached to the word, “system.” Systems generally represent overarching, complex networks, where one is more of a cog within or an observer than an actual, aware participator. When technology fails to be a tool to an individual, it isn’t that it lacks usefulness. It’s more of a conscious transition where when one fails to understand how to use a technology or fails to see its relevance, it merely falls into the background of our daily lives. To these people, certain technologies were never tools. Said technologies may not be applicable in daily life, therefore we ignore their existence and depending on the breadth of the technology (the internet for example), we may find it entering our daily lives against our will, without any way to assume control over it. This can happen not only because  we lack understanding of it, but because we can’t find usefulness or relevance within it.
I’ve seen this happen with my grandparents over the years as the computer pervaded nearly every chasm of society and my grandma was left in the dark, while my grandpa embraced it. My Grandpa worked as a construction estimator for most of his adult life and still dabbles in estimating even today. Since the 80’s, he has been working with and alongside computers. For accurate calculations, computers were abound with usefulness. When email and the Internet came about, he was able to stay on the forefront of modern technology and communicate with co-workers, contractors and suppliers. In every sense of the word, computers have been a tool to my grandpa.
My grandma on the other hand had no need for technology. She stopped working after having 2 children in the late 60’s and decided to become a stay-at-home mom. With no real need for computer technology, she refused to become a participator and instead let the technology seep into her daily life with no control exerted over it. During the .com boom of the late nineties, she was left baffled by the sheer volume of Internet-related TV commercials. Although she understood the use of these websites, they lacked any relevance to her life. Her main connection to computers was through my grandpa, who would occasionally print out recipes at her request from the Internet and bring them home to her. And so, computer technology fell into her background and became nothing more than a complex system that surrounded her, bearing no relevance in her daily life. It became nothing more than a confusing background novelty—far from a tool.

Has anybody had any similar experiences with relatives who either absolutely embraced a new technology or who have completely stayed in the dark with them?