June 29th, 2014
The air is sterile and cool in this tiled room. A tense silence resonates from each person sitting on the festively decorated couches and metallic chairs. Every seat is set up in a way where everybody can see one another but no eyes meet. Everyone is peering down half-heartedly to their wifi-capable devices. A couple of people seem to be taking care of some business that awaits them at home while the rest are most likely thumbing through the net aimlessly. I fall into the category of the latter in this moment, reading random status updates and checking out inspirational photos.
I look back and forth between the hand-held window of the digital world and the disconnected up close world before me. There is a girl sitting opposite of me, pretending to be doing something on her phone that needs to be done. Her eyes look up to scan the room and she catches mine for a second. She looks down immediately but seems to have enjoyed the temporary attention. I get the feeling that she has been coming to this room each day for exactly this reason. She’s not the only one I’ve noticed since I’ve been here. Girls and guys alike get dressed up and come to this little air-conditioned sanctuary to silently stare at their phones in front of each other. If everyone were back in their own country with omnipresent internet service there would be no need to convene in this constricted area, the only room in which wifi works in this tropical resort.
The door to the muggy outside world opens and in steps a guy in his early twenties, wearing a pair of slick shades. His tank top reveals months of determination at the gym in preparation for times like these. He scans the room quickly hiding his eye movement behind the tint of the glasses then finds a seat. I look over to the girl and see her sneak a peek at him. She adjusts her skirt slightly, preparing herself for the eyes of a potential mate. He sits down for a while, resisting the temptation to look up, as to not look too interested, waits just the right amount of time and chances a glance toward her. She doesn’t look up from her phone but feels his eyes and becomes aware of herself as she stiffens up. He looks back down and she eases a bit.
From what I’ve observed these last few days, this room is the most sexually tense place in the whole resort. People have an excuse to be in close proximity with each other without the pressure of having to talk. It is a blessing for all young people in heat to have to come to this cool room where wifi holds its monopoly. In the temporary micro-culture of young resort vacationers, it has become the place to check out the new incoming batch of potential flirts while having a legitimate excuse to need to be in the room.
Part of me is saddened to be part of this newborn culture that hides behind digital façades. Everyone in this room is visiting this beautiful part of Mexico from a foreign country and must heal the separation anxiety by checking status updates, emails and photos. We are muffling any downtime, any stillness with the exciting buzz of unending data streams. Our biggest fear is to spend a moment of unexcitement.
I, along with everyone else here, can make excuses as to why I need to be on the internet instead of swimming in the ocean, exploring the town or hanging out with fellow humans. The reality is though, that although I’m on an adventure through the latin world with the intention of exploring new cultures and living in a more present way, I need my fix too. I never thought this would happen to me when I first observed the craze snowballing a few years ago, but here I am, browsing aimlessly through other’s photos, checking on the amount of likes I have, taking a fat hit, a bump, a syringe-full of 0’s and 1’s.
Will my friends at home not like me anymore if I don’t like their photos? Will they forget about me if I don’t post updates? Will I be left behind if I don’t participate in this world? Am I happier or less happy because of this technology?
I think technology at the end of the day has less to do with my happiness than with my reaction to it, how I let it affect me. I’m thankful that I’m forced to limit my time and space on my device to this one room on the property, otherwise I would constantly have to resist reaching for my pocket during any downtime as well as having to battle the social obstacles of communicating with others who can’t resist that temptation. This whole culture of filling every second of downtime with binary anesthesia is still so young and I imagine that one day maybe connectivity to the digital world will be purposely limited in certain spaces. Like non-smoking sections of restaurants, there may, and perhaps should be, “no-signal” sections.
I look over to my friend sitting on one of the other couches. He’s a few years younger than me and I’m sure he finds this nervous looking girl cute. I look over to the girl holding her phone in front of her. I know she’s just browsing on it but it looks as though she could be taking a photo as well. I decide to risk awkwardness and break the tense silence of the room.
“I think that girl just took a photo of you dude” I say out loud to my friend, knowing that the whole previously perfectly silent room can hear me. My friend looks sort of shocked but he is familiar with my awkward style of humor. The girl looks slightly appalled too, looking back and forth between him and I without saying a word.
“Did you just take a picture of him?” I ask her directly. She turns red but looks glad to have attention on her at the same time.
“Oh, no, I… I was just looking at my phone.” She nervously smiles back at us. Some of the older people in the room crack a smile and the tank topped dude looks unamused.
“Are you sure?” I ask, “I could’ve sworn I saw you looking at him then point your camera.” My friend rolls his eyes. She gives a cute little laugh and smiles. She shifts in her seat and looks back down at her phone.
“So what are you doing on that thing anyway? Are you an instagrammer?” She immediately looks back up, happy to have been asked a question about herself.
“Well, ya actually” She shifts her eyes, looking around the room.
I nod my head toward my friend. “I think this guy is a pro instagrammer… How many likes do you get per photo dude?” I ask him.
“Um, like 100.” He shyly replies.
“And you?” I turn to her.
“Well…130” She says without hesitation, probably just having checked her last photo’s status.
“Whoohoo!” I look right at my friend. “What a burn… You need to step it up bro.” Some people in the room laugh and she looks happy to have all this positive attention.
Her phone lowers and she looks less tense, ready to converse. My friend asks her where she’s from and conversation begins to happen. The tension in the room releases and it becomes obvious that all any of us wanted to do was to connect. Our connection is heard by fewer people and instead of 130 likes, we’re getting just 10 from the people in the room. Well maybe only 5 like it and 5 are annoyed but I ‘ll take 5 real life likes over 130 digital ones any day.