Taco ‘Bout It: Virtuality

by Taco Olmstead

photo by Roger Gupta

In our world today, we are more connected now than ever, but some days I feel more disconnected from people, from life, than I ever have before. I grew up in a world without cellphones, without social media. It would take days, sometimes weeks before being able to get a hold of someone. I can remember writing letters, with a pen and paper, to my good friends while they were away at summer camp. I would watch sunsets, blazing with golden orange and magenta hues, thinking of my loved ones, those close to me, reflecting on my relationships with them. Now, I find myself staring at my phone screen as the sun passes, alone and wondering why I never noticed.

Days pass, evenings move forward, caught up in a whirlwind of electronic communication. I can remember walking through a student lounge a few years back, and took note of the activity there. When I was in college these areas were so full of dialogue, conversation, intellectual exchanges and social commentary enveloped the space. This time though, the only commentary occurred through Bluetooth headsets and necks craned downward into abysmal electronic screens. There was no interaction and all of the chatter was void of depth, meaning and humanity. You find a date on tinder now, rather than just saying “hello”.
I recall music venues and concert halls, when every stranger welcomed another with a hug or a handshake, a smile to let you know you were welcome. Now you’re lucky if you get a smile from the promoter passing out fliers. You go to the merch table and the attendant is lost in emails, Facebook and snapchat.
At festivals, the music plays all night long, the folks you camp next to, you rarely talk to and the camping areas are more a wasteland than a community. I long for the days when the music stopped at 3am and everyone went back to their campsites, and the real fun began! The pickers circled round and the drum circles began to thrum and amid the cacophony of it all, laughter permeated the air as jokes and catchphrases were launched from one camp to another.
Our minds reel now with information disseminated through our Facebook feeds. Is it all a conspiracy? Will I be gunned down by ISIS? Should I be carrying a gun? Is the government coming for me? Is my neighbor an alien? Am I too fat? Am I too thin? Should I even post that I am having suicidal thoughts and am falling apart inside, because even if I do, would anyone who matters even notice?
I am amazed at the technology available to each of us in our world today. I am blessed for having the entire contents of a library resting firmly in my hand. I have the ability to have any question answered at the touch of a button. I can fix my car, find a recipe, count my calories, find an old friend, tell my loved ones I miss them, all with one device. I can work from wherever I am, I can make spreadsheets and balance budgets, transfer monies and purchase stocks while in the front row of my favorite venue while my favorite band plays my favorite song, while I work.
I can put that device in my pocket. I can hug a stranger, smile at a friend, carry a conversation at a merch booth. I can thank the promoter, laugh with my lover, catch the eye of a lady and say “hello”. Then, at the end of my evening, back in my abode, retrieve my device left off where I began.
This is my challenge to you, to those who have taken the time to read these words, turn it all off! Take time every day to unplug from your virtual selves and spend some time here, now, and let people know you are present. At the end of this life, we will reflect on the time we spent and how we spent it. We will wish for more time with sunsets, with friends, with strangers and the time we could have spent with them, rather than here, in this virtual world.