“A journey is like marriage. A certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” -- John Steinbeck
How can we take a wrong turn these days? How can we discover the twists and turns and back roads of serendipity when the fastest-route box is the default selection on MapQuest or Google Maps? How can we possibly learn anything if Siri and GPI forever prevent us from making any mistakes en route? How can we be found if we’re never lost?
Our obsession with the destination -- with getting there as fast as possible -- all but obliterates the lessons and rewards of the journey, and we wake up one morning to discover that we’ve become prisoners of efficiency. Perfect prisoners to be sure, but prisoners nonetheless. Turns out our only real mistake was not turning off our digital masters while we still had the chance.
I was in Newport, Rhode Island, recently with my girlfriend. We stopped for breakfast on Thames Street and sat at a table next to a tourist family: a mother, father and two teenage boys. The father and two boys were all heads down, completely immersed in their respective smartphones while the mother -- with no one to talk to and no technology to conceal her boredom -- sat quietly and fashioned a brave smile when she looked my way.
Her eyes, however, were plaintive and sad, and betrayed her silence as if to ask, “How do I compete with this?” She sat without a word, ill-equipped in the moment and quite beyond redemption.
A tourist as well, I was clearly outmatched by my own technology, an early generation cell phone and a digital camera. Turns out that two digital devices are at least one too many for yours truly. I was forever pulling out the wrong device at the wrong time, the phone when I needed the camera and the camera when I needed the phone. I understand, however, that the new smart cameras come with phones. Amazing.
If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then what I know about digital technology must make me Public Enemy No. 1. Then again, who needs to know anything these days when we have Google and Wikipedia and Siri? Go ahead, ask me any question. I once took pride in things I knew, but that’s a harder claim to fame these days -- especially when the primary lesson at the end of the day is how little I know about anything.
Meanwhile, my greatest achievement (with the exception of my daughter) is my undiminished sense of wonderment. I still see cathedrals in a grove of redwood trees (and vice versa), and still hear poetry in baseball each spring. Could be that I’m just easily and constantly amused, like all simpletons. Or maybe the result of too many drugs ingested over too many years.
But I think wonderment and happiness are basic choices we make as conditions of the journey, things we impose on our own worlds in our own time while our worlds impose conditions of their own, replete with riddles and rhythms we can’t possible fathom. We call the conditions that life imposes on us destinations, and perhaps the most meaningful question we can ask of them -- good or bad -- is, “Why me?”
Try asking Siri.