NOW for the good part!
One of my most amazing students was Zachary Senn, a professional photo journalist. What did he do when his camera broke? I have his permission to share this essay, about an encounter in Jakarta:
After a long day’s worth of work, which had involved photographing a massive demonstration by a militant cell of Islamic extremists through a stormy Jakarta monsoon, I retired to the balcony of my guesthouse in order to enjoy a local clove-filled cigarette and work on editing the photographs that I had captured earlier in the day. As I cut into the dragon fruit and cup of marinated tofu that I had decided, out of sheer exhaustion, to call dinner, I opened up a video chat window to begin a conversation about the day’s happenings with my editor- late evening in Jakarta was early morning in San Francisco. Just as the video link was connecting and my camera’s memory card was uploading the day’s bounty to my internet-based storage hoard, a tall, lanky, just-past-middle-age Scotsman came up the stairs to the balcony with a cheerful greeting and an extra bottle of lemon beer. “You looked like you could use a drink, my friend.”
After my new companion introduced himself, I fired off a quick email to my editor informing him that I’d send him a recap of the day the following morning, and I began to enjoy the company of my new friend, Robert. According to Adler and Proctor (2011), “Even when face-to-face communication is convenient, some people find it easier to share personal information via mediated channels” (p. 21). I am certainly one of those people, and in most circumstances, it would never cross my mind to engage in a meaningful conversation with a stranger at a hotel; however, it’s unusual to meet travelers in Jakarta, especially those whose first language is English. There was an inherent camaraderie just in our foreignness. After introducing myself, I asked him why, of all the places in the world, he was staying in Indonesia’s embattled, smog-choked, poverty-ridden capital. Robert informed me that he was looking for a place to get away from the hyper-connectedness of the modern Western world. He claimed that being far removed from the excesses of Western technology had increased his ability to read people, and allowed him to form deeper connections to those he came in contact with. He told me that he had quit his high-level financial advisory job in Scotland nearly a decade ago in order to live in relative obscurity and pennilessness. Robert claimed that he had never been so happy as when he was free of the distractions of technology, and he spent his days doing odd-jobs as he traveled alone through Asia. Robert was a living testament to the truth in Kosina’s (2010) statement that, “Many people report that a day away from a screen lets them reconnect with what really matters in their lives.”
As I sat out on the balcony with Robert, listening to his mesmerizing tales of himself and clutches of fellow hippies living in caves along the Algarve in the 1970’s, I began to become uneasy due to the fact that my phone had started to repeatedly vibrate. As Foley-DeFiore (2010) claims, “In our culture, most of us have become dependent on communication technology in some form or another.” I pulled the phone out of my pocket, asking my pious Luddite companion for forgiveness, and saw several texts and missed calls from my local colleague informing me that there had been another major thoroughfare shut down by the local extremist cell that was wreaking so much havoc throughout the city. Although this was nearly a year prior to the tragic January 2016 bombings perpetrated by the Islamic State group, the area surrounding the Sarinah District busway and the nearby Bundaran Plaza Indonesia were already frequent targets for the hoards of different militant groups and paramilitaries that call Jakarta home. I informed Robert that I would have to go take some photographs, and began to pack up some of my camera gear. I thanked Robert for the beer and stories, and yammered a quick phrase of Indonesian down to a bajaj driver waiting on the street below me, asking him to find an alternate route to the Sarinah district. As I was preparing to leave, Robert ask my permission to say something personal. Curious as to what he was going to say, I replied that he was more than welcome to make any remarks that he wished. “You love to show others the beauty of the world, even in the most unfortunate circumstances… But you never enjoy it yourself. You’re too busy hiding behind your camera to actually look around and take advantage of your surroundings.” Robert’s words hit me heavily. Despite my initial gut-reactions to claim otherwise, I knew that he was exactly right. I thanked Robert for his company, and asked if there was someway that I could keep in touch with him. “No, I’m afraid I don’t have any way to really keep in touch with anyone,” he explained, “But hopefully, I’ll see you before I leave for Bali in the morning… Just remember, young man- it’s not a sin to enjoy yourself. Leave the camera at home sometimes.”
Three days after my encounter with Robert, my camera broke. It was devastating at first, as I had not entirely wrapped up my assignment in Jakarta. However, when I landed in Kuala Lumpur a few days later, I realized that I was experience that city in a way that I have seldom known. Getting to look through a lens wider than 35mm expanded my viewpoint in more ways than one. Ever since my meeting with Robert, I have been incredibly conscious of giving myself a few nights for every city that I visit to simply enjoy myself and my surroundings without a laptop, phone, or camera to distract me.
Adler, R. B. and R. F. Proctor. (2011). Looking Out/Looking In (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Foley-DeFiore, J. (2010). Feeling Stressed? Try Going Technology Free For A Day. Ezine Articles. Retrieved from: http://ezinearticles.com/?Feeling-Stressed?-Try-Going- Technology-Free-For-a-Day&id=4196600
Kosina, E. (2010). One Day Each Week Without Laptop, Phone, or TV? How a “Tech Sabbath” Can Heal Your Mind. Yes Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.yesmagazine.org/ happiness/time-for-a-tech-sabbath