I have been reading “Living in a Foreign Language.” It is about Italy, the life there versus the life in the U.S. It has got me thinking about why our Adventures in Italy trips are so meaningful to us, why we feel such sadness on returning to the U.S. It further has me thinking about technology (cell phones, e-mail, IM, twits, etc.) that I have such a love/hate relationship with, and what I consider to be a less than good way in using it here versus Italy.
In thinking about all this, I began to consider the roots of the U.S. and that of Italy, and how it influences us differently today. The U.S. was born to gain freedom from a variety of things, to be independent, to escape tradition. For much of our history there was always another frontier to the west where we could continue to pursue our independent ways. We’ve grown and prospered and are, still today, a mecca for those who suffer or feel stifled and want to escape. We have a mindset of always going forward, not looking back, escaping, moving on.
Italy, on the other hand is a place with a very long history and strong traditions. They care about their history, about their relationship to those who came before. They revere the past, believe there is value in consciously being tied to it, in preserving it. Where historic preservation has always been a struggle here, in Italy it is part of the mindset. They care about tradition, about doing things that respect the past, honor the tradition. This is precisely what some of those who have come to the U.S. have been trying to escape.
But the U.S. is changing. We are a maturing country. Our history now extends back 500 years. Our forward forging ways are harder to achieve now. We have no unexplored geography to which we can escape. Where there had always been a new frontier, we are faced with finiteness. We also have a long enough history to begin tugging at us, just as it does in Italy. These changes have meant we are groping as we mature. We have not yet developed the anchors of Italy. Until now, we haven’t needed them.
As a result, we are not as adept as Italians at handling what technology brings on us. Italy has bent technology to the traditions, history and culture that have always guided their living. While they have every bit as much technology as we, it has been tamed by tradition, cultural mores, history.
For us, loving the new, we jump all over the latest technology. The result is a fast, disconnnected, fragmented world – without anchors. We like to call Facebook, IM, Twitter and more “social networking.” You see attempts everywhere on the web to talk about “web community.” That’s simply, if you’ll excuse my French, bullshit.
A social network, community, a sense of place and belonging, a feeling of rootedness comes from face-to-face interaction. It comes from time spent with people, not in the ethers, but in physical proximity to one another.
In Italy face-to-face happens all the time. Cell phones are put away, time is invested in personal relationships. There is no masquerade that an ether connection is the same as a face-to-face connection. This stems from the anchors provided by their history, tradition and culture – the very thing we are just now beginning to try to define.
What I love about our trips is that our travelers gain this insight. To a person, they revel in the richness of life, at the warm interaction they are privy to and participate in. It is a first understanding of what we are groping for in the U.S. It is a window, a light, a first step in helping us move to a richer, deeper, more mature, more developed society of our own. Thank you Italy.
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