Digging at the confluence of culture and everything else
Smartphones and Strangers
05/10/2014Posted by on
Just a short post to make up for missing yesterday’s: I’m on the road to Florida, driving by car from Michigan. This comes out to around an 18 hour road trip broken over two days. I’ve taken a few trips like this over the years and there is always a part of the night where the rest of the car has fallen silent. The audiobook has run, my companions have lapsed into sleep or road hypnosis, it’s a good time to think.
I’ve had less of that silence ever since I bought a smartphone. I’m a late entrant into the smartphone generation, concerned as I was with the financial cost and the dangers of having 24-hour anywhere access to the internet. It’s kind of like why I don’t try out the latest concoction from Taco Bell: the worst thing that could happen is I discover it is delicious.
The difference in having constant internet access is pronounced on the road. On the upside, road travel is much less risky. I spend less time worrying about planning routes, preparing supplies, and arranging for places to stay. “Find a hotel when I get tired” is an efficient strategy when finding a hotel is as effortless and fast as asking my wife to do a google search. Getting lost isn’t much of an issue. No doubt about it, having a smartphone makes my life better in many small and tangible ways, especially while traveling.
At the same time that the smartphone makes road travel safer, easier, more comfortable, it also impovrishes it a bit. Getting diverted, if not out right lost, was a common result of traveling by car, and if I wasn’t lost, I was usually worried about getting lost. So, at rest stops and gas stations, I would hop out of the car and ask for help. And in the proccess, I’d meet a stranger, maybe even make a friendly connection, however brief, with a fellow traveler. I don’t have to do that now, so I don’t – and while traversing the experience that is the American roads, I experience a lot less of the people.
I think it is worth it, in the end. Serendipity from need is nice, but security actually makes people more open to elective serendipity. I still sometimes miss the quiet, and the oh so brief emergent communities of strangers, lost and disconnected together.