Depression is a thing. A real thing, everywhere. Here too. Apparently it's so bad that the World Health Organization (WHO, for those of you in the know) has adopted a motto this year that hopes to provide verbal tools to combat it: "Talk to your neighbour." Why?
Because neighbours - and nobody, really - seems to talk much anymore. Let me rephrase that, people definitely talk too much. In the naval gazing self - aggrandizing world we've managed to build for ourselves, there's no shortage of verbiage (like mine, right now...ahem), but what they, we, don't do enough is talk to each other. It would seem that all this texting, posting, liking, sharing (please do all of the above with this blog) has us not talking to each other, and not listening much either.
The problem is two-fold. First, with our faces down, planted into a technologically "heightened" world of beautiful/cool/shocking images and exciting words it becomes difficult to enjoy the moment (boring). The moment is that thing happening in space-time where birds chirp, leaves rustle, an old or young person passes by with such a forlorn or joyous look on their face so as to inspire poetry. All of those parts of the moment and more are lost with our heads buried deep.
Two, those words and images that pop out from your device are inevitably curated by you or the advertising companies targeting you. That's the joy in technology after all, we get to see, hear and read more about what we like, by others who are more like us. So we lose out on the opportunity to challenge ourselves, to talk to somebody we normally wouldn't; the opportunity to grow a little more.
A good place to learn all of these life lessons is on the plane, a place where wifi is still, for the most part, not accessible. Even when it is offered it is so expensive ($3/ minute with Air Canada), you probably won't use it. Admittedly the plane still allows for other ways to bury yourself into your curated world (i.e., you brought movies on your computer, you have music plugged into your ears and it's loud, valium pills, etc.,). However, contingencies aside, chances are if you are on a six hour flight to San Francisco, you might just sit beside somebody and you might get to talking.
You might not have normally found yourself talking to this person, an Iranian woman who works as a cashier at a grocery store. She's the one who tells you about the WHO motto for the year, that as a global community we just aren't talking enough to each other. But she teaches you more; she teaches you about politics and life in Iran. About how children who haven't even reached eight yet, will say, "life was better before the revolution."
She teaches you about the dangers of mixing religion and politics. Oh you know this already, of course you do. You've read the news and not to mention you live in Quebec which underwent its own revolution, albeit silently; that revolution involved shaking off the tight grip the Catholic Church held, particularly on francophone communities. But you don't know it like this, like she does. And when she tells you, we still don't understand what the Iran - Iraq war was about, the war she herself lived through, all you can say is, that's just crazy. Reminds me of 1984, just crazy. See, you might know about these things from the lit screen that gives you so much view point and chatter, but you wouldn't know it from her, your neighbour.
And when you get to San Fransisco, you're probably going to see the golden gate bridge and drink the fine Californian wine regardless of whether you're addicted to tech or not. But if you choose to keep yourself happily padded in curated lala land than you're probably going to jump in an Uber, not walk. And if you do Uber your way through, you'll still see the tents pitched up over the sidewalks throughout the Mission district and beyond, no doubt.
But unless you walk beside those tents, around them, in front of them, you're not going to come face to face with it, them. You won't have time to see the ingenious fastening to crates some have rigged so as to stay mobile, ready for whatever. You won't hear the music - or the yelling - coming from within some those tents; the life in the tents. You might not notice, or maybe you'd turn your head, or you might even find it cute, these urban campers. But when you walk in the midst you feel, these are communities, and this isn't right. That's the point, I suppose, when you're really there, living, experiencing in real time, then you feel.
I can't lie though. First thing I did when I came back from that SF trip was jump on my couch, pick up my computer and google "Tent Cities" in San Fransisco. The profound knowledge emerging from the inter webs provided the information I desired. Within fifteen minutes I had a better understanding of how the tech industry combined with the refusal of San-Francisceans to increase housing density has lead to a homeless crisis (which is presumably not new).
So lets not pretend the inter webs are all bad. Moreover, lets not pretend talking to your neighbour doesn't hold some risk (probably why we don't like to do it). I mean, I tried to find out more about this WHO motto, "talk to your neighbour". Turns out, maybe my neighbour gave me some bad information.
Photo cred: E.T, in the Mile End.