Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Technology, Romance, and The Lack Thereof

When I thought about Peace Corps during my pre-service days, I thought about living in a thatched dome, having a goat as a best friend, taking bucket showers (or none at all), and letters from distant family and friends being the only contact from home. Here in Ukraine, there are some volunteers living in villages with no Internet access. They might have a goat, cow, or pig for a best friend (until it becomes dinner, at least). They even have to take bucket showers and use an outhouse in the middle of the night. In the dead of winter.

Constantinovka, Ukraine
That is not the case for me and Logan. We live in a city of about 150,000 people and we have access to modern conveniences and technologies. We have a toilet and WiFi in our apartment. In the city center, we even have a Wallmartesque store that really creeps me out. I am happy with my site, but also a little envious of the village experience, which seems pleasantly detached from modern technology. There, people only dream of the newest iPhone. Or, maybe they don't even care about it at all. This is probably not true. It seems like everyone and their mothers have smart phones in Ukraine. But, I have this image of village life and in it, technology is shunned upon because villagers don't have time to play with touchscreens. They're too busy living in a glorious bubble in which flower beds line the streets, neighbors show up at each others' doorsteps with a bottle of wine and a story, and pies on windowsills are cooling with the setting sun. I wish I had a piece of straw and a little harmonica fill for that last sentence.

I feel like technology has taken some of the romanticism out of life. So much of our time is spent on another plane of existence. I'm not saying that this plane is a bad place to be, but it's definitely an intangible place competing with a tangible one. We have digital souls now and I wonder if it means we have another soul, or if it's part of our original one, ripped off. I was facebook creeping the other day and I looked at the page of a friend that I don't know very well. After clicking through his photos, I felt like I had grown up with him by seeing how he posed in his awkward you-had-to-be-there-kind-of-thing photos and even in the evolution of his haircut into the modern age. Is this called digital soul searching?

Relationships are different now. The internet has great potential to make them more dynamic and creative, even, if used properly. I know people who have found their true loves online. There is definitely hope, but I don't think everyone is that lucky. Sometimes, I write e-mails or text people instead of calling them. I look up every single thing I don't know how to do online instead of asking a person (and maybe if I did ask someone, they'd tell me to "google it" because the world is at my fingertips). For someone like me (a half shy homebody), dancing around on the interwebs can be dangerous. It's so easy to slip into a world of no physical contact and this scares me.

Maybe communicating through the internet makes us braver. I am about to make this post visible to the entire world. Would I be able to articulate these ideas in person? I don't know if this happens to you, but when I wear sunglasses, I feel pretty awesome. When people can't see my eyes, it gives me some kind of confidence, like I have the advantage of looking into their eyes, into their souls, and they don't. Yes, this is all in my head, but it still feels real. Take away the internet and put people face to face (no sunglasses allowed) and I bet some of us would whither because we are out of practice standing next to people, having a conversation in real time, accidentally brushing up against someone in an elevator. Is this sphere endangered? If it is, maybe we should all become creepers and go around touching people or getting really close to their actual faces. Quick. Hurry, before it's too late!

Cheers to Skype!
I don't want to be too pessimistic. I think technology is cool. I like gadgets. I think it's cute when the elderly say things like "what's a google?" I like the fact that I can send messages to my brothers the second I remember something funny that they did as kids. Communication through technology is, after all, what allows me to publish this blog and how I keep in touch with family and friends back in the states. I wonder how the first Peace Corps Volunteers fared so far away from home, without skype or a guarantee that letters would arrive at the addresses written on their envelopes. As much as I love and miss my family and friends, that sounds pretty romantic to me. I almost want to unplug myself from this online universe to see what life would be like and to really feel how much it has changed (future blog post, maybe).

Technology is changing and so are we. We will continue to change with technology as it changes and grows. I'm still figuring out how much I want to let myself change. Until I decide this, I'll keep writing, surfing, facebook spying, googling, and waiting for the robot takeover to be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

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