On Bad Luck, Bad Choices, and Good Outcomes

My friends are probably sick of this story, but here goes… I got into a small bike accident, and of course the world didn’t end but the circumstances and the outcome make for a good story. This story is one I’ve been meaning to put down for a while because it speaks to three aspects of any good story: bad choices, bad luck, and good outcomes, with an added cultural spin.

It’s almost cliché to say that since I have arrived in Copenhagen, I’ve become a cyclist. Getting around the city with a bike feels great, the city makes it so easy, and I now feel naked without my bike. It’s an extension of my life in the city. An example: In my typical hyperbolic fashion, I was complaining to a friend about having to walk to the metro station before my vacation last week because it was honestly the first time I’d done any significant amount of walking since I bought my bike about seven weeks ago. (I suppose it’s better than when that once might have been the case with me and a car. Oh, how I don’t miss my car like I thought I would…)

In this context I’ve taken my bike as a given, in the sense that it’s easy to get around, fatal cycle accidents are one-in-a-billion and the infrastructure is so good to support cycling that it makes the chances of something happening seem very low. Getting into a bike accident wasn’t something I thought about or considered in the way that I did getting into an auto accident, and so I was totally unprepared for its eventuality. I suppose I knew it would happen at some point, but I didn’t put a lot of thought into bike safety, bike insurance (is that even a thing?) or what the proper protocol is for bike safety before and after an accident.

About three weeks ago last Friday, I was high on exhaustion and adrenaline. I’d been out late the night before because, well, long story, and my six in the morning bed time was jolted to a halt by an alarm at 10 reminding me that I had to work on a survey research project with the study group from my course. It was one of those beautiful Fall days that are so rare in Denmark, the ones where you feel good about everything. My mild exhaustion from the night before made everything seem important even when it wasn’t – those types of mornings. I hung out with my group after we did our work, and it was a lazy afternoon where everything feels good despite your doing nothing because you are surrounded by good people. I even managed to get Dunkin’ Donuts from the Copenhagen Central Station – a first since I got here – which made me feel nostalgic for home but also at peace with my place in the universe. (The quality is better here but it doesn’t taste as good, go figure. #Murica)

I was cycling home during the late afternoon, and was about a kilometer and a half (uh, one mile or so) away from my apartment, excited for a small dinner with friends that night, when I noticed someone cycling the opposite way in the cycle lane. This isn’t normally a big deal; I guess it’s technically against the law in Denmark, but nearly everybody does it safely and for a short period at some point to get around construction or correct a navigation mistake that they have made. I didn’t think twice about it. As I got closer, I could tell the old man on the bike carrying a bag filled with bottles was incredibly drunk, so I did my best to get out of his way, eventually getting out of the cycle lane and nearly into the road when he got even closer to get around him because he had no clue what he was doing. As I passed him from the left, he lost control of the bike and swerved to the right towards me, knocking me out of the cycle and into the road.

Now, this wouldn’t be a huge deal except for the fact that it shattered my phone and punctured my front tire. I wasn’t sure what to do in this situation, and was more worried for the guy than I was for myself, given that I was young and only had scrapes and a mild sprain in my left arm. The man couldn’t even make a sentence in his own language (not Danish) let alone English, nor could he stand up on his own. I was grateful that two women who were passing by helped me out. One of them made a point to call emergency, while another helped me with the old man, who was drunk and clearly in more pain than I was. There were beer bottles broken all over the cycle lane, some empty and some full.

I noticed two children playing on scooters come from around the corner and then run away. Presumably they knew the man – who had to be in his sixties I was guessing – and ran away for help. I told the women I would take care of everything and they left. The kids came back with one of the kid’s fathers, the man’s son. The son was completely unwilling to make his father take responsibility for anything, which was made worse by the fact that I had no idea what my legal or moral standing was in a situation like this. I felt bad that the guy was in this situation, but I didn’t deserve to be treated like that in a position where I clearly has no power or leverage. I wasn’t the bad guy so why was I being made to feel like one? After minutes of questioning the son and trying to get some sense of what to do, he told me to call the police but that it would not do that much good.

Not knowing what the proper way to deal with this was given my deficiencies in Danish biking law, I really wasn’t sure if it was right to call the police for a minor cycle accident, or if there was any way of establishing liability. I was unsure of what to do in this situation, and with the guy refusing to give me his number, I acquiesced. It was a tricky situation, certainly more difficult by the fact that I was in another country with a different cultural context and unaware of what legal barriers there might be. I probably should have pressed more. I was a little shaken and put off that the guy wouldn’t even give me his number to try and fix the situation, as I felt I was entitled to at least the most minimum recourse for my tire. I went to a cycle shop down the road and found out that I could repair the tire for 400kr (about $60), so I got a receipt and went back to the neighborhood to locate the son.

This bike will play mine in the made for TV movie.

This bike will play mine in the made for TV movie.

Fortunately, I succeeded in tracking down the man, and the son was much more cooperative on the second go-round. All I wanted was someone to give me some honest sense of what they knew of situations like this, what I should do given my ignorance, and if they’d be willing to help me out with the tire. I wanted some sort of reassurance that I wasn’t crazy for tracking them down, even if it wasn’t material reassurance. I got stuck in a long conversation with the guy, which was tedious but I was grateful for because it allowed me to empathize.

Despite the son being a bit of a jerk to me the first time, I felt bad that I had to put him in this situation. He was clearly embarrassed by his Dad, who he described as his “biological father but not his real father” and was unsure of what to do in the situation. It apparently wasn’t the first time the father had caused damages to himself and to other people through his drunkenness, and the son was in over his head. The father was sorry but unwilling to meet with me, or take any personal responsibility. I knew I shouldn’t feel guilt for doing what I was doing, but considering the family situation it made me question the moral and legal grays of the situation in a way that I hadn’t before.

It was clear to me from then that I’d stumbled in on a very sad family situation, the dynamics of which were playing out through the biked accident I’d gotten into. Here was a son having to do everything to take responsibility for the actions of his own father… They agreed to pay for the tire, as well as cover some of the costs of damages to my phone outside of warranty if necessary. It was surprisingly amicable, to the point where I felt guilt for having to insert myself into the strained dynamics of this family. I sympathized, and that made it difficult for me to feel like a victim. A lot worse could have happened but didn’t, and I was just grateful the guy was OK as well. In the end, it was clear to me that I was as in-over-my-head with this minor bike accident and its consequent drama as was this strange father-son relationship that I’d become a sort of fulcrum for.

Even bad days can end in good nights, though (night of the accident).

In a dark sort of way, it was one of the first situations which made me connected to the local community, and also one of the first situations which made me realize how little I still knew about the place I was living. I didn’t know if there was a thing like cycling insurance or home insurance, let alone how much it would cost or if I should have it as a student. I wasn’t sure what the proper recourse was given the cultural context, and I knew that the language and legal barriers of pursuing it might make it more difficult. I was a bit out of my depth and not sure of what I could do to prevent that from being the case in the future.

I’m glad the situation resolved itself quickly and amicably, and I also realized how much more attention I need to pay to cycling laws, norms, and practices while I’m over. It was another example in a long string of bad luck situations for me, but it also made clear my own ignorance regarding all of this. I wasn’t a victim; I could have had more leverage in the situation but didn’t. It’s a lot more serious of a thing and my bike is my car at this point, as silly as that sounds, so I need to think of it and myself as such. I’m glad that this situation resolved itself peacefully enough that I could that away, and I’m hopeful that everything will turn out fine for the father and his son as well.

What a bizarre little window Danish life and human life that was. Even small bike accidents can teach you something about living life abroad.

Stay tuned for more stories of travels to Berlin and Prague, as well as Lithuania and Latvia (it’s been a busy two weeks).

On American Democracy and Living Abroad

I suppose it should be said, the views in this post are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Perhaps my favorite thing about being abroad is experiencing your own country from the outside. In an era of globalization and digital media, that’s hard to achieve. Everybody, despite being abroad, has the ability to experience their culture from within because of the people they talk to, the social media they use, the media they consume, and the news they read. Unless you know the language and are well-settled, the modern era enables you to go online to read whatever news sources you want to ensure that your experience of the world is the one that the media is projecting to you is the one that you want it to be. This makes it difficult to let you look at where you come from with an outsider’s view.

When talking to people about where you come from, stereotypes and media ensure that sometimes the view is not always the most balanced. Because I’m from America, everybody thinks they understand it and everybody seems to have an opinion that they are often all too eager to offer up. Everybody consumes American culture, and everybody has a distinct conception of what the U.S. is from years of media coverage and foreign policy decisions. This makes it easy to get wrapped up in some of the more negative coverage, though most people of the people I have met are very willing to have a discussion of what makes America such a fascinating and exciting place, despite a lot of its flaws and contradictions (which every other country has as well). This has been true even more so in the last couple months than on other trips I have taken overseas.

Taking the critical stance when you are on the outside is important, but it can also be easy. Living abroad, no one should ever have to be put in the position of having to “defend” their country, as if it is a singular mass that you alone created. And yet because of America’s influence, Americans often find themselves in this position, even if it’s just in casual debate over a beer or a cup of coffee. It’s easy to give in to the dominant critical perspective of America when I am abroad, but setting people right and challenging preconceptions are as important as well. Change is never going to happen overnight, especially in our political climate, and there are reasons we do things the way we do. We could borrow a few ideas from the Europeans, but we are not Europe, nor should we be.

This critical perspective can be fun, though. For instance, given that I am studying development, one of my favorite observations came from a friend I am studying with: “Why is the U.S. allowed to be considered a shining example of human development when they don’t even have a system for providing universal health coverage?” Good question! The infrastructure of a developed nation is there, but the human support is lacking.  Why is welfare conditional, handed out like Monopoly Money? Why are the insufficient government services in place to address poverty hidden behind bureaucratic layers that make them impossible to find, let alone be used to improve the lives of the many? Why does our tax code, with all its exceptions, make literally no sense, and why do we incentivize people through complex tax breaks that there is no way the average laymen could possibly understand and take advantage of?

When looking at it from the outside, and with the perspective having talked to other people and lived in other places, I find that our government and our infrastructure feel like a beautiful set of pipes we built over a hundred years ago, but that we are increasingly keeping together through Band-Aids, scotch tape, bread bag ties, and Elmer’s glue. No wonder people are afraid of government: a lot of the government we do have is complex and oftentimes inefficient. The base is sound, but everything we have built on top of that base sometimes feels like it is being held together by a thread. No wonder it’s hard to get anything done.

I only came to some of these conclusions by living abroad. Studying comparative politics, history, and development for multiple years of university has certainly helped, but the experience of talking to other people and experiencing the outside world is really what has helped me to intuit, and understand on a visceral level, what all of this means. Getting my CPR (social security) in Denmark was so easy, and even as a resident I’m guaranteed a base level of health coverage means I don’t have to fear spraining my wrist (which I’ve already done since I got here, more on that later). The idea of a net makes sense to a lot of places but is absent from our debate because of an overwhelming an entrenched sense of what our national identity is and ought to be, and it’s difficult to have that conversation with others when all people really want to talk about is our election.

The one question I honestly expected to get more of was some variation of the now infamous question “What about that Trump?” OR “What do you think about Trump?” or even “That guy’s a real asshole, huh?” When I was in Scotland in the Spring, it was the height of the primary season and thus the height of Trump-mania. Consistently, and without hesitation, I would get people asking me what I thought about Trump, if I was a Trump supporter, or “what’s it like over there” like we’re suddenly a postcolonial dictatorship or barren post-apocalypse. What I would usually explain to people, politely, was that the structure of our primary system was conducive to allowing a guy like Trump to subvert the establishment and secure the nomination of a party he doesn’t even belong to, and that when you got down to it his real base, and not just the ones that follow him to the general election because they don’t like her, it’s about the same as the far-right, economic populist parties of Europe. But I digress.

Since I’ve been back in Europe, in Copenhagen, it seems like the attitude has changed entirely. People seem to get it. Everybody knows Trump is a loon, and they’re more willing than ever to engage in an honest debate about who he is, why it’s happened, and how it’s affecting the image of America to the rest of the world. The thing that has surprised me to find out over here is the extent to which everybody over here absolutely loves the Obamas. Barack Obama, to most people, is a great and honest leader who has projected an image of strength to the rest of the world. I have some issues with Obama on policy, though fully acknowledge most critics of his policy are skewed in their understanding of what he should have been able to achieve given the current political environment. However, it’s hard to deny that Obama was a great statesman, and, perhaps more importantly, a great symbol of America is and ought to be on the world stage.

The lesson I’m learning about Trump is that it becomes hard to live through your country while your abroad when the image of your country that is being projected is that of an absolute circus. It’s difficult to engage in an honest discussion about your country is with the shiny distraction that is the 2016 election. When for so long you have found yourself in the position of experiencing your country and all its quirks from the outside, it’s difficult to remind people of the more moderate America exists with all its flaws and ideals when you understand it from the inside. At the same time, it is interesting for me to try and remove myself from the technology bubble and talk to people around me about what this election looks like from the outside in, because in the end appearances do matter, and we’re doing ourselves no favors. All that being said, I am really looking forward to having an Election Night party in Europe because everyone loves the spectacle and is able to laugh at it.

Stay tuned for more stories about bike accidents and traveling to Berlin and Prague.

On Crappy Weather and New Friends

Weather BEFORE.

Weather BEFORE.

Weather. We all talk about it in very banal terms, often as a placeholder for other, more meaningful conversations or a way of breaking bread with other people given a better idea, but we never usually take the time to really realize what an undue influence it has on our thoughts, behavior, and lives. I think about it even less than other people do; while the weather is always on the tip of other’s people’s tongues, it’s always at the base of mine. (Weird and creepy metaphors for 100!) That has not been the case since I arrived here in Copenhagen.

Background: I’m always the one that is under-dressed or dressed incorrectly for the weather, often because I don’t know what I’m doing with life but also because I desperately want to convince myself that weather doesn’t affect me in the same way that it does other people. (Ask anybody that knows me and common sense isn’t always my strong suit.) I’m always the person that is asked “OH, you’re just wearing that?” or “Do you want my jacket? I’m sure it would make you a lot more comfortable.” Firstly, no I don’t, so please stop asking me! But I’m incredibly stubborn as well, so sometimes I do and I’m just putting on a show. (Maybe.) I always prefer comfort to being over-dressed, and this has made me, to some extent, more tolerant of the weather but also less interested in it and less able to notice the small temperature differences that others seem to. Maybe a little arrogant, too.

I do tend to do a lot better in the cold than in the heat. Part of this is how silly and ridiculous I look in shorts (can’t be just me), but I always prefer to warm up rather than cool down. Maybe it has to do with me, at my core, being an introvert who prefers the comfort of cooler climes to the excitement of nice weather and crazy beach days, but I prefer cooler weather and have always tended to like places where the temperatures skew on the cooler side of temperate than the hotter side of temperate. For some who know me, this might seem counterintuitive given my love of going barefoot, but I would always prefer temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (9-10 degrees Celsius) and sunny to the type of weather that forces me into shorts every day. Extreme weather in the cold direction tends to be fine for me so long as it is not accompanied by extreme winds, complete and total cloud hour, and rapidly diminishing daylight hours.

So, while I am indeed an idiot, this idea of me “willing something into existence” is to some extent true in this case. Years of being improperly dressed has forced me into a tolerance for cold that seems to be much higher than that of a lot of other people, even those from a similar climate. Perhaps I do have a better system for regulating my internal management of temperature difference, but, really, I have kind of willed myself into an attitude for weather that seems more like “We’ll get through this” than other people, for whom it predominates the conversation. All that has gone out the window since I’ve been here in Copenhagen, where I constantly talk and think about the weather.

After an unusually nice September in the city (which, as I was reminded many times, was very unusual and I should be grateful for it), October has slowly begun to kick my ass. Despite going to Ireland for a semester — where I was struck by the constant rain — I was not ready. Denmark seems committed at every level to reminding you of the fact that it is a flat, grey little country and you can either accept it with all its introverted, fun-loving eccentricity and rules or get the hell out. I do respect that, and I do not mind the cold, but after your 10th straight day of cloud cover, the one hour where the winds slow down and you see a beam of light from the sky seems to, quite literally, be sent from the heavens. Seriously, it rains more than half of the week and I’m constantly looking for signs of light, not to mention almost getting knocked off my bike by wind half the days I cycle into the university.

Aside from that, though, it’s lovely. I swear. #WelcomeToScandinavia

Weather AFTER.

Weather AFTER.

All of this reminds me, though, that one of the most interesting things to me about traveling is going to cities and towns and talking to locals, and realizing that each area really does have its own personality. This personality can, in turn, be directly related to the weather. Not indirectly, mind you, but directly; correlation does in fact equal causation in this case., and the patterns of weather are very much emblematic of the types of people toy will find.

With some of our own limited knowledge of weather systems, some of it doesn’t make intuitive sense: like why, given the latitude, I experience much sharper extremes of cold in New England but don’t have all the grey, existential doom-and-gloom of flat and insular little Denmark. You can easily see the weather reflected in the people that live here. In Denmark, everything is very eccentric, precise, homogenous, shy, and orderly,; though, unlike the Swedes it seems they are not afraid to have fun. (Already picking up on local stereotypes. Ahem.) You can find evidence of this as a reaction to the weather: like in their day-to-day life, everybody puts their nose down to get through life most of the year, but then the times when it is sunny they really know how to enjoy themselves. In all of it, they seem to very much be themselves and, like the weather, you can take it or leave it. The personality suits me, I just wish it had some of the inconsistency of weather in New England, which serves to remind you that there is still a a world beyond the clouds.

One of the side-effects of the nice/crappy weather divide is, of course, the attendant change that you notice in your social life. Being new to a place, it is especially pronounced. The first month here, it seemed like every night we would just drink beer by the river, or every day we could sit outside in between or after classes and just be happy to be in a new place. I actively enjoyed my bike rides and wasn’t at all taken back by the acuteness of the wind gusts or randomness of the rain. As with any change to Fall or Winter, I knew it wasn’t going to last forever, but the shift was definitely more sudden than I was used to. After four weeks of mostly sun and sometimes nice temperatures, the weather very abruptly gave up and said see you in April.

This isn’t a bad thing, but it has meant thinking more about my days in advance. All of my friends here are still people that I’ve met in Global Development, and with the the nice weather has gone the lack of planning which made it easy to go from one thing to the next and meet new people. Now that the weather is, uh, shite, and the days are darker and colder, it makes me look back with nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses (already) at the romantic, fun-loving first month of yore. I’m already beginning to understand what the Danes talk about when they talk about hygge, because when it’s cold and getting darker by several minutes per day, it seems like the only option to preserve your sanity in between endless amounts of reading and trying to get settled and develop a routine in a new location. I was almost there, and then the weather happened.

On a serious note, I am grateful for how easy my life has been here in terms of meeting new people and developing connections. After just seven weeks I feel like I’ve developed such great rapport with people I didn’t even know two months ago. The small, structured, and focused nature of my program is conducive to that; we’re all studying the exact same things and have the same course load and schedule. It’s easy and natural, even if it doesn’t feel earned because we’re all forced into the same conditions and structure and use Facebook to mediate every social encounter. I’m still looking to meet more people locally, but in terms of the people I’ve met I’m grateful that the growth of a social life was easy and fast, if uneven. Hopefully that will continue on unabetted, despite the weather’s insistence to the contrary. (And perhaps dating is a thing I should look into as well.)

So, in order to escape my existential dread about the weather (and the price of living, I might add) and meet new people, I will be escaping to the (probably not much warmer) climes of Berlin and Prague this week. We have a week’s break from school for lord knows what reason, and I will be using it to maximum effect. I’m looking forward to good beer, castles, museums, and, just maybe, a little bit of sun.

Stay tuned for more stories about experiencing your own culture from the outside.

On Technology

One of the worst things about being a student is accepting the inevitable defeat of that moment where you realize that a document you were hoping would be saved has been lost. Be it a small homework assignment, a group report, a midterm exam, or even entire sections of an essay or dissertation, we have all been there. Even worse is when, well, you are forced to wipe your entire hard drive and lose everything because your disk has been corrupted. Only some of us have been there, but it’s painful. Such has been the case for me this last week. In addition to a variety of other documents and applications, and over 20 gigabytes of photos and 200 gigabytes of video, I lost the last blog I wrote this previous weekend and am now starting fresh with my laptop. But the blog is the least of my worries.

I had written a rather thoughtful exploration of my own reasons for studying development and the ways I’ve shuffled around my understanding of myself and what I want to do with my life over the years since I started university, and that’s probably stuff I will come back to at some point. (Summary: the follow through is okay but I’m very indecisive and could benefit from a little clarity in my understanding of who I am and what I want to do with my life; in other words, typical troubled Millennial angst.) Instead, though, I’m going to talk about the importance of technology and how I have realized how important it is to modern notions of traveling and living abroad (as well as being the source of further Millennial angst).

Starting over can be fun, but not when it’s your laptop and not when you’re still in your first five weeks of grad school in another country. For better or worse, technology both controls us and enables us to achieve so many things, and the loss of it for however long can be acutely felt in the modern day, especially if you are in a place you are unfamiliar with. I’ve always considered myself technologically literate and technologically dependent, like many others in my generation, but I’ve never considered myself an efficient technology user. Primarily, I use technology to do normal things like go on social media, listen to music, and do school work, just like others. But I’ve always felt like I’ve been squandering the opportunities technology has given me, like that I should learn how to code, learn how to use PhotoShop or edit video, or learn how to use a variety of productivity and news apps that will me make me more efficient on the computer. Instead, I’ve used it to go on Facebook, watch videos, and read some news.

In a sense, I’ve become annoyed that the only things I really use technology for are social media, news, music, and videos. In the middle of this, I’ve now realized what a fickle beast technology is and exactly how dependent I am on it, especially in this new context. I probably won’t follow through on half of these new ambitions, but the idea of being a better technology user seemed to coincide, for me, with the idea of being a more productive person more generally. Now that I’ve gotten into something of a routine over here, I can focus on being a better student and a better person in some sense. Technology is an integral part of our modern lives, for better or worse, and I should learn to take better advantage of it to improve my life rather than just distracting this to me.

In the middle of all of this came a computer crash and the realization that I know far less about technology than I could ever hope to. Just like I’d be Googling how to change a tire if I went off the room in a snow storm, I barely know what to if for some reason my computer cannot boot. You don’t realize exactly how lost you are until that moment because you know that most of your personal records and things that make you yourself are on there, as well as all the school work you need to be keeping track of.  In a practical sense the crash affected me very little and is something I could resolve, but it’s something that got me thinking about how we treat technology as a given when it is impermanent.

Running definitely clears my head when it comes to things like this.

Running definitely clears my head when it comes to things like this.

That moment for me was on Saturday, when a standard reboot to install updates on my computer wouldn’t end and resulted in the hard disk being corrupted. With some help from my roommate and a call to HP, I realized that I was going to have to reinstall Windows. The hard drive was irreparable and instead of being able to repair it, I was forced to wipe the drive and do a fresh install. All because, apparently, a graphics driver from Windows isn’t compatible with my HP laptop and somehow resulted in a computer malfunction that resulted in the hard disk being corrupted. Because Windows 10 forces these updates on you, I was helpless, and because I had only backed up some things to the cloud, I lost just about everything and am now back to square one.

What this entails in real terms is a realization that I’ve not been responsible in considering how dependent I am on technology and how being responsible and efficient with technology comes first from having the foresight to back up your computer and second having the realization that you’d be lost without the files and things that you have stored on your laptop or PC. You just don’t think that everything’s going to go South until it does one minute and then you’ve lost a bunch of memories and a whole bunch of things you need to live your day-to-day life, especially as a student. Having lost only a few weeks’ worth of work from my grad program, I’m struck by how grateful I am that this isn’t happening 18 months from now when I will be in the middle of writing a Master’s thesis. What you can’t get back, though, are the old photos and videos, or any writing you’d done that you’d actually want to hold on to. (I had written some chapters of a book over the years and am really disappointed they’re gone, despite probably not being any good.)

In my mind, I keep thinking: it’s just a computer, you’re abroad, you should be living your life and not worrying too much about these things. But, unfortunately, as a Millennial and especially as a student you are chained to the world by your computer to do many things, and when those are taken from you there is a realization of how much you need them to get by. Without the ability to use my computer to do work, I would realize how difficult it is to keep in touch with friends or family, do work, and get about. There’s a certain amount of privilege in all of this, but privilege you need to recognize and internalize if you’re going to move beyond the technology and not allow it to control you. You’re immediately handicapped, even though you shouldn’t be, and in that immediate helplessness you realize your own privilege. It’s an important realization: how important technology is to our modern lives but also how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of life and how lucky we are to have it.

From now on, I will definitely be purchasing external hard drives to back up my computer, and will realize that the first step to being an efficient technology user is to realize that you have an obligation to treat it like the commodity it is. It can go away in a flash, it’s not self-perpetuating; and we all need to realize that and think about what we can do to make sure the loss of it doesn’t control our lives. Technology should free us to do more things, not imprison us. If I can be more efficient in using technology better and using it less to do things like browse Facebook and watch videos, then maybe I can free myself to do more important and better things with it (such as keep track of the photos you think will never just one day be gone).

Definitely didn't lose all of my photos!

Definitely didn’t lose all of my photos!

In the meantime, I have also realized how technology dependent we are when traveling or living in a new country. Technology keeps us connected to people at home and serves as the basis for a new epoch of communication and relationships. When you’re in a new place where you don’t have roots, the lack of it is even more acutely felt. You sometimes don’t know how to get around, how to organize your life, or how to do things you’ve always wanted to do. You have this romantic idea that travel entails cutting yourself off from the constant flow of information and people, and in some sense it does. But when you’re putting down roots in a new place in the 21st century, you do kind of need it. Even more than when you’re home, technology opens up communication channels that are incredibly important for both being away from home and getting on in a new place.

As ridiculous and hyperbolic as some of this, I’m grateful I was able to fix my computer without too much fuss. But I’m still living with issues with it after two crashes and resets, and I know that I need to take better care of it and realize how it affects me and my place in the world. I could be negative on it, and indeed it is a sad state of affairs, but technology, and especially your PC, is something people forget they have to maintain and pay attention to. Only then will its loss not hit us so hard and we will free ourselves to spend more time detaching from it and disconnecting. Use it responsibly and take care of it and realize how important it is, but then don’t be afraid to put it aside. I know when I travel to Berlin, Prague, and Riga later this month that my laptop is something I will be leaving behind in order to better enjoy life in a new pace, safe in the knowledge that the important things I need on it will be there when I get back if I actually remember to take care of them and treat them as the commodities they should be seen as.

Stay tuned for more stories about new friends and, uh, the weather.