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June 07, 2012 8:44 am

CULTURE SHOCK: Park County inspires outsiders to holster their cell phones

Written by Dante Geoffrey

I never thought of myself as being out of touch, but my recent move to Powell has me reconsidering.

When I realized that people around here are “in touch” in a way I clearly am not, I was left with no choice but to accept my status as a person, once removed.

It’s hard to pinpoint just what, exactly, makes someone in touch with his or her world, but I suppose it has something to do with how self-aware one is and how invested they are in their community.

In today’s world, awareness and the time to invest into anything other than one’s self are heavily affected by technology.

That’s why it was of great interest to me when I noticed the most pronounced difference between myself, a recent Sacramento transplant, and the people of Park County, is our consumption of personal technology.

Simply put, people from bigger cities use more of it. A lot more. But that’s not to say they use it better.

In my short time in Powell, I’ve noticed the people here use technology as a tool rather than a physical extension of the human hand.

This became apparent to me during my first day trip to Cody, where I went to pick up a few items for my embarrassingly under-furnished apartment. While I walked down the main drag of the semi-bustling town, I was compelled to keep my cell phone in my pocket.

I’m not sure if it was a deliberate decision. I just felt a pressure of sorts to walk around with my eyes in a position to meet the eyes of others. I think my subconscious could sense I was out of my element and instinctively forced me to behave like a decent human being.

The use of cell phones is the most prominent and public display of personal technology. It seems that Wyomingites use their cell phones to make phone calls when needed, and don’t constantly walk with their necks tilted forward 80 degrees for the best texting view. That practicality would almost seem strange in a major city.

In Sacramento, I’d feel little insecurity about walking down the street with my eyes buried in my phone. But here in Powell or Cody, I make a concerted effort to fight that urge so that I might actually observe and address the people and happenings around me. A pretty novel idea if I do say so myself.

Later that same unsuccessful shopping day, I took out my phone and opened my trusty Yelp application to search for a few last items.

Yelp is a website and phone application that allows users to describe and review local businesses for others to see. Yelp has absolutely everything on it, and is very useful for people not familiar with a certain area.

Except for me in Powell and Cody. Yelp returned zero results, so I ended up asking a woman in a furniture store where I might find bed sheets. Like I needed to attract more strange looks.

On my way to the store she recommended, I was twice led astray by my phone’s maps application.

So what, I’m expected to politely ask another human being where I might find something and then follow up by asking where that place is located? What am I, a reporter?

Well, yes. But even if I wasn’t it shouldn’t matter, because talking to and helping other people is what human beings do. It’s called communication, and sometimes it requires hearing a person’s non-automated voice.

Powell has brought this seemingly obvious fact to the forefront of my conscience. The good news is that it’s only taken a couple weeks for me to begin emerging from my iPhone-cased shell.

This illustrates the struggles of being new to a small town in an age where many people are conditioned to rely on technology for guidance. You don’t know where anything is, and that information isn’t always readily available via the Internet.

But it also highlights the rewards one gets by living in a small town long enough to feel comfortable and knowledgeable in the city you live in. It’s a level of comfort and knowledge that seems almost unattainable in a big city.

This isn’t to disparage Sacramento or big cities in general. I liked living in Sacramento. And I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Orlando and Vancouver.

I don’t think metropolitan areas breed “bad” people. But I do think a busy lifestyle in a heavily populated area can condition people to sink within themselves and escape reality through a technology, most often their phones.

Yes, everyone here in Powell still has a cell phone. And the Internet. And cable TV. But not every possible technological application is used at every possible moment just for the sake of using it.

In large cities, being out of touch is not knowing who Goetye is or not owning a smartphone. But I’m starting to think that definition is inaccurate.

Being out of touch is not knowing who your neighbor is, or refusing to learn the name of the person who hands you your coffee every day. Being out of touch means you’re missing opportunities to make valuable human connections within your community.

I came to Powell to begin my career and experience something entirely new. It seems that I also checked into a small-town human condition rehabilitation clinic.

And being that I still don’t know the names of any of my new neighbors, I could use it.


  • Comment Link June 07, 2012 1:45 pm posted by Mark J. Lehman

    Wise words. Not proud to admit this, but I haven't known the names of my neighbors since I lived with my parents. And I would definitely keep my cell phone in my pocket more if that dang Word with Friends game wasn't so addicting.

  • Comment Link June 09, 2012 9:40 am posted by Mike

    Agree, these hi-technology's are tools. Not best to be overused so much that folks get totally numb to the physical, intereacting human world and conditions around them. In my area of Oregon, most seem to be so attached to that phone that it's insulting to those in line at the store. Can't even hold a worthwhile conversation or be look you in the eye when spoen to. Others jaywalking against heavy traffic not even watching for cars; poor ol' driver's fault if struck? Plugged-in and tuned-out man!

    This article is a breath of fresh air for me, hearing that, most generally.....Powell knows time and place usage as described.

  • Comment Link June 09, 2012 4:34 pm posted by Nicholas Clark

    Great article! I agree, I think we too often become dependent on engaging technology as a substitute for actually engaging in real (non-digitized) life.

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