A few days ago, I started writing a post called “In praise of disorientation: Wherein our hero goes jogging in a strange city without a smartphone.” It was in response to some of my wanderings in Detroit this week, and my strange but persistent urge to try to do a book tour without digital communications technology of any kind: no cell phone, no GPS, no laptop.
Friday, in Chicago, I went to grab a late lunch and couldn’t find a single place to set down my food in a cavernous Wicker Park coffee shop because every table had sprouted a laptop and a silent person with eyes glowing blue. Momentarily taken aback, I thought to myself that I don’t even remember a time when our community eateries didn’t echo with the clacking of keyboards.
Of course, I’m way too nervous a Nelly to actually try this epic midwest trip without aid of my electronic positioning and communications devices. But I still feel the strongest compulsion to throw all things that beep and blink out the window. It’s not some back-to-the-land impulse. It’s not simply my subtle Luddite leanings.
I miss being disoriented. I miss unplanned excursions. More importantly, I know that, as a human being, I have to force myself to ask people for help, especially strangers.
Then, yesterday, I picked up Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and she just crystallized so much of what I wanted to say in language far more elegant than my own. Try this:
The word “lost” comes fromthe Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army, and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world. I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant business, and the design of public and private space conspire to make it so (A Field Guide to Getting Lost, 2005: page 7).
What do we miss when we are always oriented, never lost?