Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Technology and Reverse Culture Shock

It's not hard to believe, I'm sure, but one of our observations and struggles after coming home after a year and half abroad had to do with re-entering a culture that is obsessed with technology and being "plugged-in" to the online world. Of course, most of us realize and freely admit this, but it was something that was a glaringly stark contrast to how we had lived on our island. I came across this quote from Thoreau's Walden a while back, and it kept coming to mind over and over again during our time in America.

"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at."

(side note: unsurprisingly, these sentiments seem to be right in line with the spirit of this famously subversive "fight the man by finding the meaning of life alone in the woods" piece of literature. But, it's also funny to realize that the "pretty new inventions" that Thoreau was ranting about were railroads and the telegraph. I wonder what ole Henry D. would think of Facebook and iPhones...)

Now, it may seem trite and predictable for us to pretend that we have come back enlightened and elevated above the evils and distractions of contemporary America after our short time abroad. But the true, saddening reality was how easy it became to fall right back in to the temptations that our technology offered us. How easy it was to disconnect from real conversation when there was wireless internet to be had. How easy it was to care more about how people on Facebook perceived me than fully loving the actual people around me.

The other funny and interesting thing to notice was how other people talked about this phenomenon. It seemed like everywhere we went, people would make remarks completely on their own about "how lucky we were to have lived so simply" or "how damaging our society's obsession with technology is." It is as though we are addicts who are fully comfortable admitting that we have a problem, but helplessly floundering as if we don't have the tools to fix ourselves.

Yet, I will always believe it is an unbelievably tough subject, because of all the benefits of modern technology. It was amazing to be able to share our stories, pictures, and experiences with all our family and friends. It was so cool to be able to correspond with and hear from friends living and serving the Lord, literally, all over the world. I believe that globalization and the growing smallness of our world has the potential to connect us in ways never before possible, drawing us to be more compassionate, understanding, and informed people. But, of course, there are dangers on the other side of that coin.

Meditating on Thoreau's quote brings up so many important questions for us. What are the "serious things" that our pretty toys distract us from? Genuine community? Vulnerable relationships? Deeply embracing nature and beauty? Denying consumerism and embracing simplicity? True intimacy with God?

And while our technology has continued to improve and develop at an astounding rate, what is the "unimproved end" that we are striving for in our use of these fancy gadgets? Are we spending time using our inventions for healthy or unhealthy things? Are we choosing to engage with people and the world through online personas rather than genuine, face-to-face interactions? Are we capable of embracing life-giving simplicity while finding a proper balance in our technologically-oriented world?

I'm certainly still very far away from understanding this balance and putting it into action. But, more than ever, I realize that it is so important that we guard ourselves against the temptations of modern technology and strive to live genuine lives free from these easy-to-fasten chains.


Top 10 Moments of 2013

10. Adam's sweet toast at our Christmas dinner. I don't know when he stopped being the baby and became a man, but wow, I'm just so proud of him.

9. The day the lights got turned on. (You can see that post here). It was such a once in a lifetime type of experience and the celebrating was ...unreal.

8. Paella-both times. The boat, the dancing, the stars, the wine, the friends, the laughs, the memories.

7. The day the boat broke down. And we were stranded in the middle of the ocean. After a few hours a yacht came into view and we flagged it down. From beginning to end it was hilarious and so so memorable.

6. The return of Amanaki's "ako faiva" (Tongan singing and dance practice). The realization we had come one full circle. The beginning of the end. The sharp distinction of who we were and who we are now. The tenderness of the song we could now understand. The easy laughter with our new friends.

5. The 4 days we spent recording our CD. So many great memories with our kiddos!

4. The day we showed mom and dad our island. We literally walked the whole town and they met every single person. I appreciated them coming, their words of encouragement, seeing all we had learned through their eyes, showing off our relationships....just the whole thing.

3. Swimming with the whales. No words!

2. The wharf uma's. Our whole village lined up along the wharf to say their goodbyes and kiss us farewell. I won't ever forget it.

1. Meeting my sweet nephew Jason Lane. I already love him so so much and am counting the days until I get to see him again. Aim has said, " he's the best thing we've ever done" and I love seeing them live that. They are amazing parents.

Can't wait to see what 2014 has in store for us!

An aside: I wanted to put a special moment Mark and I experienced-a moment for us, about us, that bonded us uniquely...but I can't. Because all of the above mentioned we experienced together. In fact, upon reflection, in the entire last year, Mark and I never spent more than 6 hours apart. For those of you who are thinking "you are so so lucky" - you are absolutely right. Never in our married or dating life have we had much time together. It was a huge blessing- a time of amazing growth. For those of you who are thinking " that sounds insane and makes me feel slightly claustrophobic"- you are absolutely right. It's a little (ahem) hard to spend that much time with anyone, even your very best friend.

But crazy amounts of time together aside....I have learned so much about Mark this last year. I have watched him in so many different circumstances, and loved and respected him more and more. We have laughed, read, played, talked, shared old stories, played ukulele and sang, worked crosswords, gardened, swam, walked, worked on Tongan, tickled, played cards, played scrabble, written letters/emails/blogs....all together.

So thankful to have eaten breakfast with my Mark every morning, and to hear the eager greetings of all our neighbors and the barks of our little pup as Mark and Buster returned every afternoon. He is such an amazing man, and I'm happy to know him more and more as the years unfold.

Honorable Mentions: billfish dancing at IST and MST. Seeing family after a year and a half! Our final feast and fakamalo's. Karaoke "scrubs". Our going away party. Ofu kayaking. Tevi 1000. Getting scolded at the Mormon dance. Marks solo at the Mormon conference. The first day of our Kindie. "How Great Thou Art".

Cyclone Ian and Fiji

During our travels back to Tonga, a catastrophic category 5 cyclone hit Tonga. This was/is the worst cyclone to ever hit Tonga, and while there was only one fatality, on the Ha'apai Island group there is around 80-90% destruction. All of the Tonga Peace Corps Volunteers are safe -though two lost their homes and everything in it, and one volunteer experienced it, taking shelter in a Mormon church. (Thank goodness for the Mormons! Their churches saved so many lives!)

We landed in Fiji about 3 hours before the storm was supposed to hit Tonga, so our flight was cancelled. Our PC country director had family living nearby the airport - so they picked us up, fed us breakfast, and got us settled in a nice hotel in Nadi. We (Mark and I and a fellow PCV named Joey) spent 4 days in Nadi. We were eager to get back to Tonga to hear from all of our PC and Tongan friends, but it was also nice to explore a little of Fiji. We had lots of Indian food, drank kava at weird and questionable places, hiked the famous "Sleeping Giant", tried to look cool swimming in a waterfall, saw the famous Hindu temple, watched every Rocky movie ever made, went zip lining dozens of times, tried to learn Fijian, discussed the differences in Tonga and Fiji, and met some really...eclectic people. All in all-we successfully did Nadi, Fiji in four days, with no pre-made plans, and almost no money. Job well done!

Please keep Tonga-specifically the Ha'apai island group in your prayers. Everything we've heard is that it's bad and is going to get worse.

There's no Place like Home for the Holidays

Sorry for the blog silence! Mark and I got to spend an incredible, amazing, wonderful, unforgettable month visiting family back in the States. We spent a few weeks in Oklahoma with Marks parents and Grandmas doing all things Christmas, drinking way too much coffee, learning about Russia, enjoying movies, and catching up on all we had missed.

My brother popped on by for a few days. I was so so excited to see him that I literally cried when I saw him walking up the drive. I am so proud of Adam, and so awed by how...mature he is. Since when did my baby brother get so grown up?! He treated us to an amazing dinner, complete with toast, and shared so many crazy stories of his last year that I can't help but hope he'll write a book someday.

Mark's sister and brother-in-law came home for a few days as well. It was so great seeing them and connecting with them in new ways. We always enjoy hearing about Laura's life as a nurse, and we sure didn't mind Aaron's new manager position at Bonefish Grill, which allowed us to stuff ourselves full of steaks and Blooming onions for about $7.

Then we drove down to Texas to finally finally finally meet the cutest baby in the whole wide world, my nephew, Jason Lane Austin. This kid blew my socks off, if you haven't met him, you need to! It was so good hanging out with Aim and Jase- lots of laughing, lots of talking, lots of kava and cranberita's. :) I personally also enjoyed watching Mark try to change a diaper (all three of us were on deck, secretly hoping he would get peed on.)

Then we were off to California to celebrate the New Year. My parents have really inspired us this year with their focus on memory-making, and we all definitely made some great memories. Mark and I (and mom and dad) visited Napa for the first time, which was so wonderful-thanks Dad for planning such an unforgettable trip.

We ate so much (and way too much) amazing food, shared so many laughs, felt a little more caught up on all these dear people's lives, and all in all had a great trip home. We had hoped to see some of you faithful friends out there, and can't express how sad we were/are that it didn't work out that way this time. I hope it does next time...our days just flew!