I’ve traveled to few countries. Some of which are first world and third world. Living in the United States you have access to 24hrs of internet, television, media, electricity, customer service, and social media to complain or express yourself, hot showers, doctors, clean streets, and great schooling. You might not realize how spoiled and privileged you are until you visit a third world country that doesn’t have all these things. Luxury living is not should not be determined by the access you have to 24hrs to exterior gadgets, the items you can afford, or by your education, or clothing that you wear.
This brings me to where I am now. I have become accustomed to the United States lifestyle where I get everything I want instantly for the most part. I was always online, trying to catch up on the latest shows, flipping through social media pages, watching the latest YouTube videos, or watching the news or lack of it. I started to realize that I was changing and so were the people around me. I didn’t like it. I slowly started cutting back on the amount of television I was watching and checking sports channels less frequently. U.S. is a consumer driven society and I was headfirst into it. Even when you try calling your friends, family, etc. they look at you like you’re from another planet because you didn’t send them a text message. Who wants to take the time to talk on the phone anymore right? Well I do.
This summer (2014), I had the opportunity to live in Jacmel, Haiti. What an experience! I stayed in the heart of the cultural side of Jacmel. I had access to art galleries, street vendors, motor bikes, the beach, fresh air. I didn’t have all the luxuries that I was accustomed to in the United States like 24 hours of electricity and other items I listed above. It took a week or so to get adjusted to my new environment. But once I did, it felt great. It made me question my ideas of what it meant to live in luxury and what luxury really meant. The hotel didn’t have televisions in the rooms. Most of it was old school living by U.S. standards. I felt alive. I was connecting to people differently. I had to engage with the locals, had to communicate with girls that I found attractive face to face. It was a different world. Of course a lot of people had the basic cell phones and listened to music and everything like that but the conversations were different. I didn’t have to hear about Justin Bieber or the Kardashians or what happened next on Love and Hip Hop. Those meaningless conversations didn’t exist. Even when I did go on the Internet, I didn’t stay on long. I was to busy learning about my new environment and trying to make friends.
I found it easier to connect with people because they weren’t walking around with smart phones in their hands. You had to use your five senses to listen and focus your energy on the person you are talking to.
My lifestyle was different, when guests came into the hotel; the first thing they wanted to know was “what is the Wi-Fi password?” In those moments I kept thinking “why you don’t check into the hotel first?” But that’s how important the internet has become; enjoying your external environment has become secondary to the virtual environment. The internet can be seen as a connecting agent that brings the world closer together by allowing people to contact others from different parts of the world at any given time. It can also be viewed as a separator, since it brings us further apart from verbal to verbal communication, reading body language, writing skills, and out of touch with nature. I am not blaming or looking down on any of the guests for their behavior, few people stop and think about how disconnected they are to their external environment or even care. I got to the point where I didn’t care if I didn’t have power, internet, hot water, social media, and mindless conversations about reality TV. I became aware of my growth and how I became closer to my environment. I loved being disconnected or connected depending how you looked at it. The western world luxuries that I thought were important became less important and it felt great.
As my summer was coming to an end, I started thinking how do I continue this disconnect/connection when I get back to New York? Is it even possible? I will be the outsider in that environment. Of course some things like clean water, clean streets, and healthcare I will welcome back with open arms, but how do I get my friends to disconnect from social media and connect with me on a personal face to face connection? These are the things I struggle with. I will continue to decrease the amount of time I spend on the net and watching TV. Not having electricity in Haiti is not as a big deal to the locals because they are accustomed to it, but in the states, it’s a big problem if the power goes out for a few hours, days, the end result, people get fired. After this experience, I won’t be bothered as much. I have been reminded and temporarily life in the Haitian culture where electricity is not always working, and the internet is always goes in and out. The beauty of my experience resided within the human to human connection, and the luxury was embedded in the person to person conversations, and external environment.