Notes from SFO

I woke after nine hours of fitful, restless sleep, yawned, and smiled. A whole day with nothing to do but wander back to Minnesota both physically and mentally. I showered, grabbed the free copy of the Weekly Reader USA Today outside the hotel room door, and headed down to Powell to grab some breakfast. I am not sure there is a more relaxing activity in life than eating a leisurely breakfast and reading the newspaper. Even if it’s the newspaper without news.

There are days when I can bend my mind to the task, and force my thoughts to follow a disciplined progression from one step to the next, to accomplish a clearly defined goal. This is known as work. Then there are days like today where I have no obligations but to get my carcass back to Minnesota. This is the kind of day where I can let my mind wander in and out of coherence, chasing thoughts and daydreams at whatever ADHD induced whim I choose to follow.

Four cups of coffee later it was time to stroll back to the hotel and pack. Walking the streets of San Francisco, I began to notice just how ubiquitous the Starbucks paper coffee cup has become. I passed 3 Starbucks in the 2 blocks between the diner and the hotel, and nearly 30% of the people on the street were carrying a cup of Starbucks. I’m not sure why this should surprise me, but it does. I can think of no better icon for Globalization than the Starbucks Coffee cup. I have seen them in every corner of the world that I have travelled to. I’ve sat in the familiar modern furnishings of Starbucks in Taipei, Bangkok, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, and many other places. This makes me as complicit in cultural colonialism as anyone I guess. I’m not sure how I feel about it to be quite honest. I hate that no matter where I go I find pockets of American culture, and yet when I travel I find that I visit them for comfort’s sakes as much as for my coffee addiction. Life in the post modern “global village” (my favorite oxymoron) is complex and messy. No matter what target I choose to direct my angst at, (globalization, suburbanization, McDonaldization, corporatization, logo-ization, etc..) if I dig deep enough I find my own footprints. What is to be done? How does a single person change the world? Is there any point in trying?

Riding out to the airport on the BART train I looked upon the diversity of our age. Asian, Hispanic, African America, European, Dumpy Old White Guys (DOWG’s), we were all there swaying along in our own little cocoons, iPod’s plugged into our heads, pretending not to notice each other. Has it always been this way? Is the diversity of society connected in anyway to our alienation? Robert Putnam’s study revealed surprisingly, that the more diverse a neighborhood, the less “social capital” that existed in the community? Which is the cause, and which is the effect, and is there even any connection between the two? He’s devoted a book, and years of research to answering those questions. I’m afraid that the answers we find aren’t always the ones we want.
Technology brings us closer, and technology leads us further apart. This is the life I lead everyday. Because of technology, and my life in the corporation I have developed friendships with people from every continent except Antarctica, and yet, I feel more alone, more often, than I ever have before in my life. I can cut open a vein and spill my deepest fears and secrets on a blog available to anyone in the world, and still I find that it can never match the satisfaction of sitting down to a table and breaking bread with another person.

Technology and Globalization are post modern paradoxes. Riddles I will probably never solve, and could seriously drive myself mad trying to. Maybe it is better to plug in the headphones, and let my mind wander off into a labyrinth of its own. Sitting here in the crowded terminal, getting ready to squeeze like cattle into our veal pens seats on the plane, what else can I do? Talk to the people next to me? I think I’d either scare, or annoy them if I did, and to what end? Do I need more facebook friends? Hell no. I need one good one to sit with and share a pot of coffee on the front porch. That is the paradox. Globalization, corporatism, and technology, are just well paved paths that lead into a labyrinth. They don’t lead you home. The rocky dirt path that is overgrown with weeds is the only one that leads us home. Here’s to picking up a backpack, and heading off into that wilderness.


Photo copyright Library of Congress


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