Friday, February 19, 2010

Mommy, I've gotta go online!

Internet connectivity is essential. It’s as simple as that. You need to find Internet periodically, just like you need to eat and use the toilet periodically. You might be able to go without it for a day or two, but basically, let’s face it, Internet access has become a fundamental human need.

Unfortunately, with the spread of 3G and mobile Internet, it's getting harder to find Wifi, and even more difficult to find free WiFi in major cities worldwide. When you are traveling, roaming costs are too high to make that a practical option.

I lugged my laptop around London all day while there with my kids, because I couldn’t get wireless where I was staying, so I needed to get a fix during the day. The kids moaned and whined as the 4th cafĂ© in a row told us they don’t have Internet (WTF?). Finally, we found a Starbucks (sad but true), where I was only too happy to pay a few quid to get online. Despite their grumbling that we don’t need WiFi, once we had found it, the kids (ages 9 and 11) immediately asked when they would get their turn, because they need to send mail and Facebook their school friends.

I got 20 minutes, and they each got 5 or 10, and then we were back on our way. It was worth lugging the laptop for 8 hours just to get that hour online, and I did it again the next day, despite the sunk cost of connectivity and the anticipated cost of the massage to fix the damage done by dragging the laptop around town.

It’s sad, but true. Even though I didn’t have a lot to do online, there are enough issues that demand caring for at least once a day for me and my kids to consider Internet access to be a basic necessity. I’d say that on weekdays, twice a day is the basic minimum. On weekends I can get away without. I do start feeling a bit dizzy after more than 36 or so hours, though.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The State I Found You In

Outside Victoria Station in London, I met my friend AJ Pape. It was exciting, because this is the first time I've met someone from face to face, though I've been volunteering for almost a year now.

I am in communication with several people from the organization per week, by voice, video and email, but I've never met any of them in person. Neither I nor AJ lives in London or even in the UK, we just happened to incidentally be in the same city at the same time.

So it was just a genuine thrill to finally meet AJ.

And it was kind of chaotic, both the planning and the meeting itself.

Early on, I figured out that AJ communicates most easily by email and twitter, and that he has a good mobile data plan in the UK. I also found out early on that I was going to have trouble being online while in London, and that my mobile data plan is prohibitively expensive. Also, both of us had demanding schedules, so there was only a small window on Saturday morning where we could meet, and both of us had schedules that were in flux, not just up until the time we met, but actually all the way through our meeting.

Leading up to this meeting were a number of e-mails stretching back 2 weeks, most of which were probably superfluous, and none of which included a specific time and location. General time and date along with the assumption of immediate means of communication are enough to set a meeting these days. The day of the meeting were no fewer than 6 additional communications through e-mail and text, as well as 2 or 3 missed phone calls. In other words, no voice.

So meeting at the train station aligned with the already-established air of chaos and disorganization; an air of trying to fit in just one more thing, competing with the other things in our lives. There's a thrill about that, about living life to the fullest, pushing what is possible for yourself. There's the thrill of being on the edge of what is possible in this world of constant communication, frontier-less friendships, momentary meet-ups.

And yet.

We met just to talk, so it didn't matter where we were, and certainly both of us had had enough of coffee shops. So we walked around looking for the ticket office as one of us had to buy some bus (coach) tickets. Afterwards, we talked on the underground on the way to the tweetup, on our way to meet others on the edge of immediacy.

We consulted GPS and twitter to find out who and where we were meeting. We were late, we didn't find the others, we walked in the wrong direction. We were distracted by the noise of the trains, the incoming calls and tweets, and the hullabaloo of the marketplace. Being in the city, we were was never quite at rest: concerned about keeping our belongings safe, finding the right item in the marketplace, taking in the sounds and smells, never quite able to make contact for as long as the level of camaraderie would demand.

We had an hour together. We achieved what we had set out to do: had our piece on the next pieces of peace, exchanged numerous hugs, communicated genuinely, were human with one another, created something to take forward.

And yet.

Lack of presence was present. The hour went by with the feeling of constant distraction, of squishing another human being into too small a cubbyhole, of being in one place mentally while physically in another. It was all a blur and a rush. After we parted, it took 10 minutes for my heartbeat to return to normal.

I want to live my life this way. Knowing anything is possible. Getting every last drop out of the time I am here on earth. Making a difference. Touching many lives, frequently, without hesitation, with the urgency that we have only the present in which to live.

And yet.

I want to live my life this way. Having inner peace and calm. Being present and focusing on the moment. Genuinely being with others, hearing who they are and where they stand. Standing and steady. Knowing that steadfastness and ongoing commitment, integrity and presence of mind are what create our future.

Walking the balance.
Between present and future.
Between presence and velocity.
Between passion and peace.
With agility and harmony.

And yet.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You've Got a Friend

It's our fourth night staying at Susie's home in London.

As we were on the bus coming here for the first time, my son asks "How far is it to your friend's house?"

"I don't know, I've never been there," I answer, suddenly thinking about the choice of words. I don't actually know Susie either, she isn't exactly my friend. I mean, I've seen her in class, and she's seen me, but is she my friend? I asked her to help me find a place to stay this week, to save on costs, as the Landmark Forum for Young People, plus the flights, was already quite a stretch financially. And she simply offered to have us in her home.

Still, I wondered, in real life, it's not like Facebook, you don't just "friend" someone. Or do you? Children do. When they meet someone they like in the playground, they say it's a new friend right then and there.

In fact, what do you call someone who, sight unseen, offers to put you and your two children up in their (immaculately clean and beautiful) home for a week? Yes, I think, "friend" will do. And "Yes," I think, "In real life, you actually can just 'friend' someone, just like that."