I have very mixed feelings about technology. I’ve spoken about this before, but I both love and loathe what technology gives and takes away from our lives. I love that I don’t have to remember phone numbers anymore. I love that I can see the face of people I’m talking to on the phone and can send them a quickly written note instantly. I loathe how much of my attention it demands and I feel I’m constantly fighting a battle of meaning and distraction against giant tech companies that have way more resources than I do. I love how I can monitor where my children are. I lament that we are losing a sense of wonder and freedom of exploration.
One of the things I wonder about is my use of the GPS, and what it is doing to my sense of direction. It is pretty well documented that the more we use our GPS units, the less we learn how to get anywhere. It was in college that I really found freedom to explore a new place. I was in a new city, and on my own, and I was having a hard time figuring out where everything was. So my friend, Evan, invited me to go on a long run with him. He told me that the best way to learn a place is on foot. So we ran, and ran, and ran. Evan is an extremely gifted marathon runner, and I was tagging along.
It turns out, he was right. I began to do this whenever I was in a new place. The first morning, I wake up early and go on a run. I don’t have a goal of miles or time, just wanting to explore. It became a running joke with a group of friends of mine that I always seemed to know where everything was, even though one of them had lived there for years. I’ve done this in Boston, Pittsburgh, DC, Raleigh, and a lot of other places. You sometimes end up going a lot further than you want, but I’ve also found that people are generally good at putting you back on the right path should you get lost.
St. Francis has a famous saying that it is solved by walking. If we really want to know a place, I think a good way to do this is to put our feet on the ground. Get to know our neighbors and the people who work in the stores. Learn their names, and walk alongside them. It seems like such a throwback thing with all of our technologies, but I still think it is the best way to get to know a place.