Out on a Limb
My recent trip from southern Utah across the mid-west reminded me how traveling can open one’s mind to new possibilities through encounters with a change in weather patterns, diverse physical environments, and dissimilar cultures and the people within it. The mesmerizing rows of corn, soybeans, and sunflowers lining the Interstate across Nebraska, Missouri, then back through North Dakota were intermittently interrupted by billowing clouds of dust from harvesters which threatened to set off a storm of post nasal drip.
My son, who teaches Spanish at a community college south of Champaign, Illinois, takes his 3-year-old daughter to a play group where only Spanish is spoken during their time together. He joined the weekly get-together to engage with other Spanish speaking individuals, expose his daughter to other cultures, as well as develop and nurture his personal passion for Latin language, history, and culture. He is fortunate to live near the University of Illinois, an institution renowned for its research programs, which draws students from all over the world. During my stay, we attended an event at the public library for children that included face painting and a local band playing Latin music.
At times, I envy my son’s physical proximity to the possibilities of connection with other worlds, but have come to treasure and safeguard my quiet, remote abode where often my only human encounter during the day, aside from my husband, is a wave to a passing cowboy in a pickup truck on my walk to town and back. In my career as an accountant, I worked for multinational corporations, small mom-and-pop businesses, and myself – each structure informing and sculpting my relationships with clients, friends, family and most of all, myself. As a sole proprietor, there was no one else to take responsibility for mistakes, missed deadlines, and misunderstandings – an environment that bred accountability and fostered development of trust and open communication. I have stepped back from the world of business recently and begun to explore and expand my photography and writing, both of which I consider solitary sports, yet I have missed the exchange of ideas and connection. Enter Google+.
I initially joined Google+ to connect with other photographers. I was reluctant to join G+ after reading of its reputation as a wasteland, but knowing that some enduring social movements have sprouted from wandering around in deserts, I decided to give it a try. What I have found there is an oasis of photography, poetry, and possibilities. The basic format is one of building community through shared interests and passions by way of open, civil conversation. You can choose to engage at whatever level you’re comfortable with, but the more you connect and participate, the more you becoming a part of a world-wide exchange of ideas and understanding. You can choose to communicate privately or respond publicly. Google+ also offers services similar to Skype, called Hangouts, for those who want a more intimate conversation. Hangouts can also include a number of other individuals who can join in for events such as a seminar or a party.
Long hours in the car, punctuated by yet another Taco Bell/Pizza Hut/Kentucky Fried Chicken at each exit, aroused an awareness of the possibilities exposed by recent interactions with https://plus.google.com/+DavidAmerland (the author of several books on social internet behavior), my in-progress article on marketing a photography business online, and setting up Google Authorship which connects my online content with my G+ profile, my website, and other social media.
It was the death of a friend’s daughter though, that got me going. Her husband has proposed that rather than a physical gathering, friends and family gather for a Facebook memorial service where people can share and comment on personal and mutual memories. As I filled my gas tank after my bean burrito(all puns intended), I wondered what would happen environmentally if we shift our face-to-face social connecting more to Facebook or G+ or whatever online conversation platforms promote discussion. Think about what it costs environmentally, politically, and socially for us all to travel to weddings, funerals, graduations, school, or work.
I can hear the uproar of arguments about how online relationships are superficial as well as the moral moo of sacred cows, but the events mentioned above, among others, are fairly recent phenomenon enabled by the advent of mechanized travel and the telephone. Steam locomotives facilitated the industrial revolution through movement of resources and people in the early 1800’s with cars and airplanes garnering the bulk of public transportation soon thereafter. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the telephone connected our great-grandparent’s voices across continents. Here is the reaction of the communication device as described by Steve Parker in his book Science Discoveries: Alexander Graham Bell:
At first, the telephone was seen as a toy. People were (also) suspicious of telephones. (The 1800's were) a time when few people had firsthand experience of electrical machines, even telegraphs. There were fears that other people could also listen in on the telephone conversations, or that the sounds from telephones could make you deaf or crazy. ... Even telegraph companies encouraged false rumors that the telephone had bad effects because they were afraid of the competition.”
I’m not proposing drastic slash and burn policies, the enactment of restrictive laws, or the blame and shame tactics of righteous postures. I enjoy my trips across country as much as the next grandmother. What I’m proposing is a dialogue - civil, approachable, open discourse where we learn about each other’s viewpoints rather than insist on our own, where we practice the art of conversation to determine how we want to LIVE – with us and them, together.
Well said Deborah. Thanks for opening my mind to more possibilities.
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