This winter break, I had the rare privilege of getting lost.
Don’t worry—I’m not starting this article like that only to tell you later that it’s really about something cheesier like being “lost in translation” or something. Believe me, I’ve done enough of that.
I’m not even talking about a beautiful kind of being lost, like walking with a bulging Gregory pack through a faraway ancient city in search of the self. I’m just talking about being lost, like sweaty, exasperated, crap-where-am-I. People don’t really write about that kind of lost anymore.
That’s because we—as in our technologically privileged nation—don’t really get lost anymore. When we’re equipped with little voices in our cars and apps in our phones helping us stay found, it’s darn hard to not know where you’re going. That’s why maps don’t sell at gas stations anymore and people have somehow developed a strange ability to traverse crowded streets like robots while their eyes are glued to the screen. With fewer cars stopping by flower stands and fewer people stopping passersby to ask for directions, one can say that Google Maps plays the role of putting on earphones in a group setting.
So when my family and I landed in Madrid the last Thursday of the year without “unnecessarily expensive roaming services and data charges,” I was 80 percent excited to travel and 20 percent scared to navigate.
Thank God for cities and color-coded subway maps.
If I had been left to fulfill an itinerary in a more rural part of a foreign country, this article might have lost its positively sentimental feels about the subject of being lost. So when I said “Madrid,” I hope you registered—so that you don’t harbor any false expectations for the rest of this piece—that my travels were no Odyssey. I was in a popular tourist city with a full-blown transportation system in a developed country.
So when I was lost in Madrid, I was only a little bit lost, but still lost. After all, I’m the girl that doesn’t know how to get home by herself from another point in the same neighborhood. I blame Google Maps for this too, although my mother claims that this one is just me. But oh!—The feeling of not knowing which intersection is really the one coming up next in your unconfident wander with four tired family members chugging along behind. The feeling of turning back to the subway station and starting again. Huge exaggerations, I know, but these are the things that overwhelmed the 21st century me in varied intensities before I got over them in the ten minutes that followed.
Still, these experiences let me take a larger part of Madrid with me each night we went back to the hotel. Every time I was “lost,” I had overcome it by grabbing the first pedestrian I saw. Through these spurts of desperation for human contact and help, I carried away tailored memories of Spain that I don’t have of any other country.
Madrid—a city where people continue to watch you as you walk away to make sure that you understood their directions, where people have to be convinced twice that Asians like me can also come from the United States, where Spanish people take the time to travel the beauties of their own country—was human to me when I left.
Back with full-time LTE and navigation service on my phone at home, I have happily completed the transition from a state of being slightly lost to being found all the time. But as I walk though the foreign streets of my family’s new town not feeling dependent (or helpful) to anyone around me for my (or his/her) next foot forward, I wonder if this is really the way a community is supposed to be. Although it comes up in my dreams a lot, I doubt I could switch back to a phone that wouldn’t know where I am at this point.
I have a feeling I know the answer, but I don’t have the courage to set out on a quest for all the answers, so the questions are what really get me. What might be lost as the result of our being perennially found?
Jenny J. Choi ’16, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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