Living in America, and especially being a young person in America, means that I am arguably at the very center of the growing culture of excessive communication and interconnectedness that has permeated all aspects of the coming generation. I barely know a anyone who doesn’t have a cell phone and email and facebook and at least 2 or 3 other means of communication. So the idea of “isolation,” doesn’t always hit home. A few years ago I did a community service trip to Costa Rica, where a stayed with a family their small home in Las Brisas, Alajuela. This is a co op community of about 800 people in the mountains in Costa Rica. Google it. No hits. And I have yet to see the name on a map of any scale. Over the weekend, I received an e-mail from my host family. Their rare access to the internet (once every few months, during a trip to the closest thing to town, which is a two-hour drive) means I get an update on the family and always questions of when I plan to return.
We volunteers who have passed through are a window to them into the world outside of the Costa Rican mountains where people have access to airplanes and have the mobility to travel, to immediately receive their e-mails, and bring books of photographs of the skyscrapers in the cities we come from.
The thing is I only think their lives are isolated because I can see them in context with the rest of the world, and in stark contrast to my world. It is important for me to go back and visit. To me and to them. I think that their isolation is amplified by the knowledge that someone they know (me) can travel to Scotland and all around the United States and hasn’t come back to them. Isolation is a relative term. Homeless men and women in Chicago who hold cardboard signs and McDonald’s cups down the street from the Sears tower and the Monadonock building, where Chicago business men ride elevators to their fancy offices and only walk on the street for a Starbuck’s break, are certainly more so constricted by their isolation. They are not only isolated from something far away, but by a multitude of things that constantly walk past them.
The more volunteers that go back to Las Brisas, the less isolated they will feel by my not yet having gone back. But the more volunteers who pass through Las Brisas, the more isolated they will feel from the culture of iPods and laptop computers and speaking English.