How to be slapped in your face and still love it
These days trendy paper publications write about “too much of experiences in our life”. You read on Wired that social feed does not work any more, so you need more of a personal touch via messengers. Then you switch to VB and read about how millennials perceive the world differently, and your sponsored posts don’t reach them.
You agree your social feed is so much noise, then suddenly think the human-moderated Apple Music service is good after all. maybe you should dump Spotify and go for Job’s product. Oh wait, not Jobs. Yeah, Apple is becoming worse, and the latest iOS update was so buggy. But may be Apple Music is good after all — someone picks the tracks you like, and you don’t need to skip all those “emerging stars”. So you Google it up.
Like it is a no brainer. Your fingers manage to type “apple music review” before you have finished blinking the eye. You haven’t thought “oh I should google it up”, you just open the browser and type in the address bar.
Your fingers do it bypassing your brain, this is a mechanical background process. The brain turns on when you’ve scrolled through the search results and clicked one or two. We still do turn on the brain to read.
Now what if these mechanical reflexes stopped working?
Like no apocalypse, no walking dead. Here’s you, and you smartphone. Alive. Modern age. All good. You leave the airplane and head to pick your checked luggage. The plan is plain simple — grab a bag and call the Uber. Like it’s not even a plan, just a regular process that does not require any planning.
The airport has a WiFi, probably 15 minutes free, you don’t care. Enough to call an Uber and get a new mail. And it does not work. It requires a simple registration (English translation is so funny), but never connects. Probably requires a local phone number or whatever. OK, here’s a taxi. You claim your expenses anyways, so good enough.
Or maybe not. You cannot talk to the driver. Or rather he does not understand you. Luckily you have an email from your hotel, so you tell him the address. Does not work. Then you show him the address. He cannot read it! The hotel address printed in latin letters anyone can read does not work for the taxi driver, but it does not matter, as your credit card would not work either.
You’re kind of tired of the long flight and are in a “whatever, I’ll get to the hotel, drop my bag and everything gonna be fine mood”. So you find the currency exchange, figure out the process features an almost €10 tourist tax. Yeah, Uber would have been easier. You get to the info desk, tell your hotel name and address, they provide you with a piece of paper with hand-written stuff you cannot make sense of. Next is easy: feed the paper to the driver, survive an hour at +30C with no conditioner, pay €12 for a ride. At least the window views were fun.
China is fun, it slaps you in your face.
Wanna see how far you’re from your hotel, so your fingers have just launched the Google Maps app? Slap! It does not work. Still no fresh emails, no tweets, no FB updates, and all that photos on your Instagram are unchecked and unliked. It’s been 4 hours since you’ve made it all the way to China, and the world still does not know! Slap! Here’s your intoxication. Survive a line for the Starbucks — they have some English on the menu, it will get better.
So you cannot read. You cannot write. Your cannot talk and understand even the basic keywords. Public WiFi is unavailable to you. Hotel WiFi is American-slow and does not let you check what actually matters. Your phone has no navigation, your saved emails with addresses and names mean nothing. Your credit card is mostly useless. Here you are, the beautiful victim of Western civilisation totally slapped out of your comfort zone. Take a deep breath of this oxygen-lacking air, take a sip of this pumpkin latte you’ll appreciate it all later.
Once a year inspired by a good weather an a hope of the approaching vacations we leave the mobile at home and take off for the woods or lakes. We call it a detox. Like we consume all the content we got used to in the morning and then safely leave the technology at home and spend time with alive people who matter… Am I too dramatic? I am. Never mind. The idea is, the controlled detox we do on purpose does not disrupt. You get yourself ready that something would not work, and then it does not work — just as expected. What do you achieve with it?
Back to China. I am still here, on my 44th floor with the Gotham city like view of the bund. This story is being put on the Google doc. I am talking to Christy via Facebook. The whole world is happily aware I am in Shanghai as I spammed the Instagram. I even pre-announced this article on the Twitter.
My phone gallery has screenshots of some symbols I cannot make sense of, but showing that to taxi drivers makes them do their job. Every third young person on the street would be able to understand me, not talk, but understand and maybe help (this is how I got the aforementioned screenshots). Which is good enough, and is statistically better than e.g. in Russia. I still cannot eat anything but the breakfast in my hotel. I still pay triple rate on the tea I buy.
Like OK, it works, you can live your Western-ish life here. But that is not the point. The point is: the experience of feeling yourself useless, powerless, with everything you use being unavailable and no one is able to help you immediately. This huge slap in your face, or rather multiple slaps, multiple times is something that pushes you to think deeper, to ask questions, to watch how local people do. How they read, how they look, behave, shop, walk, live.
You travel to Paris and nothing really changes, just that there is a tower and lots of Iranian people selling you Ray Ban and golden Eiffel tower key chains. You travel to Barcelona and nothing changes, but someone just have robbed you in the metro. Europe feels like the pinnacle of the comfort zone. US has slow $39.99 hotel wifi and heavy food, but otherwise is seamless. Russia takes a bit of time to get used to some letters you did not learn at school, but then you take a selfie on the Red Square, post it in your Instagram (with a mandatory cross-share to FB and Twitter) from the Coffee House public wifi and finish with the disruption. Belarus? Same as Russia, but much more militia and much less public wifi. Like I can go on and on, but you’ve already read the takeaway two times, here’s the third one: getting slapped in the face multiple times is cool because you, the western human being educated to certain habits (happy and proud about that!), then make yourself open, available to new experiences that you would naturally refuse otherwise.
You figure out different design approaches, and as you watch people you may understand what and why. You learn about the lack of the retail since everyone shops online. You feel the contrast of life, commuting habits, decision making processes. While they all and all of them are deep in their smartphones with the screens that show something you don’t get.
I’ve been to Tokyo. Saw Akihabara, walked around Shibuya and ate sushi — all in between emails, twitters, instagrams and everything else I do. I’ve been to Seoul with a bit different sightseeing plan and exactly same plan for everything else. Now you can say I can find a way to make my comfort zone dissolve anywhere, but I think I’ve covered that already.