Why We Need Isolation To Make Us Human Again

Its 9 a.m. on a Monday, and I wake up with sun shining through an open window as a palm tree sways just outside. The smell of salt water, combined with the sounds of people milling about on the sidewalk below reminds me that I am not in Silicon Valley. Instead, I walk up to the window to see Waikiki Beach just a block away. In short order, I'm off to the beach.

As I travel around Oa'hu during my time off, I am reminded multiple times that I'm on an island. First off, people really take their time. When you're on an island, you don't have a lot of places to go, and the places you do have to go to are really close together. Oa'hu is just small enough that you could take your rental car around its periphery in less than four hours -- yeah it's that small.

But what is most pronounced, especially by someone who is used to Silicon Valley hustle and bustle, is that people seem more "normal" here. By normal, I mean that they talk to each other. Kids are actual kids, who run around, play hide and seek in the mall, ride bikes around the neighborhood, climb trees, and nurse ice cream cones under the Hawaii sun. Adults work just like all adults typically do, but with more of a sense of civility -- more "Alo'ha" -- like take-it-easy-and-just-do-what-you-gotta-do. By normal, I notice that people don't focus on smartphones the way we do in the Valley. People, especially kids, don't walk while texting or Facebooking. People actually look at other people. They say hi to everyone. They actually care about how your day is going.

This lead me to a thought. One that has visited my brain every time I come back to Oa'hu year after year. Isolation can actually keep a human being, well, human. Isolation can have the affect of "protecting us" from our own addiction to technology. The same technology that pulls us away from each other. The same technology that separates us, and provides us with virtual walls that we can hide behind or use as excuses. The same technology that precludes us from being ourselves because the online community can be so judgmental that we are afraid to do and say what we really feel.

The same technology that was supposed to improve our lives.

I come to Oa'hu every year not just for vacation, and not just for visiting relatives who are still here on the island. I find myself coming to Oa'hu to find my own humanity again. To be able to go to a Zippy's for a Loco Moco and have people say hello and talk about their day with me sincerely. To walk on Makapuu Beach and see small kids boogie boarding by themselves without worrying about sexual predators or kidnappers. To be in Windward Mall and see kids riding Cubby Caboose -- the famous indoor train -- past the stores, with lollipop in one hand and toy in the other. If you don't know these things, look them up online -- it'll make you smile.

People on an island generally smile because they are genuinely happy, not because they are trying to impress someone for a job or squeeze someone for a network contact. And being on an island is the kind of isolation that breeds humanity and humility. Maybe it's because knowing that you've got nowhere else to go forces your mind to be more open to those around you. Or maybe it's just the idea that you might as well be nice 'cause you got nothing better to do that day.

I take my family back to Oa'hu every year, for over 12 years now. And every time, it's less of a vacation, and more of an eye-opening experience that reminds me of something;

...That we all need a break from technology once in awhile, to be human again...