Encountering the Other

Part 1 

When I was tutoring my high school Spanish kids this past week, I was teaching them how to speak about hobbies in english. When I asked them to tell me their favorite hobby, they responded “Playing on my phone”. Of course this made me cringe. A lot of them were unable to tell me about any of their passions or interests, but all of them could agree that they spend the majority of their free time on their phones. Social media, games, texting… etc. This is pretty scary. And by pretty scary, I mean very scary. Especially with high school students. A major time of development and transition for a human being. I think a crucial part of human development is how an individual continually interacts with the natural world and others around them. This is the crux of life. Getting caught in a rain storm. Fighting with your friends because you each want to play different games. Talking with your mom about the person you like. This is part of growing up. This is growing up. Life centers itself upon humans encountering the world around them and stepping into relationships with other people. However, I think phones hinder the occurrence of these events.

I want to share the words of Hannah Arendt in her essay on technology and space exploration from 1963:

Every progress in science in the last decades, from the moment it was absorbed into technology and thus introduced into the factual world where we live our everyday lives, has brought with it a veritable avalanche of fabulous instruments and ever more ingenious machinery. All of this makes it more unlikely every day that man will encounter anything in the world around him that is not man-made and hence is not, in the last analysis, he himself in a different disguise. The astronaut, shot into outer space and imprisoned in his instrument-ridden capsule where each actual physical encounter with his surroundings would spell immediate death, might well be taken as the symbolic incarnation of Heisenberg’s man — the man who will be the less likely ever to meet anything but himself and man-made things the more ardently he wishes to eliminate all anthropocentric considerations from his encounter with the non-human world around him.

I think life is robbed of the richness and depth it desires to offer us as human beings when we decide to stay within our man-made worlds. The phones keep us in control and let us center life on the performance of ourselves. It falsifies our sense of reality. We end up encountering ourselves in “different disguises” instead of encountering an ‘other’. The encounter of an ‘other’ is where the adventure awaits. The growth, the pain, the surprises. Thoreau’s “marrow of life” lies here. The ‘other’ is a mountain, a river, trees, your weird uncle, the troubled student, your best friend. The natural world, the given creation, the things and people we do not possess or own but desire to know. Intimately.

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