Being a Hobo in the Modern Age: reflections on past life and present technology.

The age of technology influences everything from the way we do our taxes to the way we buy our groceries. The world of social networking has drastically altered the manner in which we communicate to one another, individually or as a community, and even the formerly staunch rules of interpersonal relations. Blogs have evolved from simple message boards and public diaries to sources of legitimate news and information, and private citizens have hitherto been promoted to reporters without credentials or authors without contracts. We are as connected and capable of communicating with a twelve year old child in Ghana as we are a corporate director in Denver. We can even talk to celebrities.

I recall just the other day seeing Buddhist monks in full traditional wrappings walking down the sidewalk on a busy afternoon in downtown Vancouver, each with a laptop computer swinging from their shoulders in spiffy carrying cases. I thought to myself, that’s odd. But on the tail end of that thought came the feeling that it was a good thing, a splendid progression, and a testament to those monks and their acceptance of life in the modern age. That they were able to identify the direction our species was headed and realize that if there was evil which existed in the world it lay in the malicious intent which uses and misuses the technology and not in the technology itself was an incite which made me glow with admiration.

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It reminded me of my early days as a youth, when I in all my rebellious zeal abhorred technology and the modern world in all its plastic, shallow falseness in favour of that which was woven, warm and weathered. I refused to use chemical shampoos; I sold hemp jewelry in the marketplace and played my djembe drum on the side of the street for money; I slept on beaches, parks and in the cover of forest.

During that time I met others like myself, but while I considered myself a mere infant to life on society’s fringe, others had made it their chosen path for far longer.

They were gypsies in the modern western world. Their clothes were stitched together from a thousand repairs and alterations. Their shoulders were rock-hard from porting their burdens for endless miles, and their feet were cracked and calloused from walking a thousand days in heavy boots. They wore tattoos on their faces and bone through their ears, nose and lips.

Together, we sang songs by Bob Marley and the Pogues and strummed guitars and tapped drums as we drank rum in the city park, hissing at anyone in a suit and tie. I was enamored with tales they told of squatting in abandoned warehouses, diving into dumpsters behind bakeries for discarded loaves of bread, riding on trains and avoiding the authorities. I learned secrets of the road, like how to cure trench-foot, how to properly maintain your dred-locks without store-bought wax, and the many wonderful uses for coconut butter.

I speak of these days and these folk I new in younger days and relate them to technology, because I read an article in the paper today which made me aware of “Squat the Planet.”

StP is a website originally begun as the online travel log of one Matt Derrick in 2001 as a forum where he could recount the various adventures he experienced while tromping across the country. Over the years, it has grown into a community and a resource for anyone wishing to cast off the chains of their daily life and indulge the inner vagabond that howls and dances inside.

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In the article which caught my attention today, the author tells the tale of one Eric St. Pierre of Windsor, Ontario, who felt choked to death and boredom by the hum-drum suburban life and his FedEx nine to five, until he finally gave in to the wanderlust which tickled his insides and took to the unbeaten path. Part of what facilitated this bohemian departure was his discovery that the path was not all that unbeaten, that there were resources for wanderers like him.

StP offers forums where travelers can post messages to one another, as well as search and find new friends who may be heading the same direction or know of a safe route to take, even a dependable couch on which to sleep. Forums range from “Shady People”, where folks can post warnings about those they’ve encountered who cannot be trusted and should be avoided, to “Ride Board” where it may be possible to hook yourself up with a lift from, say, Kelowna to Saskatoon on the 29th of June.There is also, for any who habitually use reddit, a community available for access at /r/vagabond where travelers share photos, stories and advice. The founder, who gave the name Huck in lieu of his real identity, said this of his resource for hobos and bohemians: “Never, ever, ever in our history have we been anti-technology.”Maybe someone should have told me that when I was twenty-one.

In my days of plunking bedroll down in a sheltered grove of trees off the side of the road and cooking quinoa in a small pan over a tiny campfire, the year was 2004 and I had never heard of Facebook or blogs. I used the internet at the library once every week or so simply to send my family a brief email to assure them I was not dead, and then logged out before the computer stole my soul. Like I said earlier, I abhorred technology and thought it the bane of mankind’s present existence.

I think back and wonder if I had but an iota more willingness to open my mind to the positive possibilities inherent in the cultural advancements of our species, maybe I would have been spared a tough time or two.

Perhaps if I had been like those monks in Vancouver, embracing technology for all the good it can do instead of seeing it only for the evil it can spread, I would’ve been able to find a warm place to stay that night I spent shivering on the cement of an abandoned elementary school basketball court with not but a card board box as a mattress and my sweater as a blanket.

Maybe I wouldn’t have gone hungry that weekend at Sombreo Beach, having eaten the last of my bread and peanut butter on the road.

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The gypsies, vagabonds and hobos (although I believe I prefer the new nomenclature I’ve just become aware of through StP: “Wanderpunks”) of today do not have to fear technology any more than the traditional monks of Buddhist temples or the hobby farmers who sell eggs in the markets.

No more than I have to fear it, and I have many reasons to fear it: I am a writer who wants to publish novels, and in the meantime I am attempting to gain employment as a journalist… Do you realize how many separate elements of that previous statement are jeopardized by the advancements in technology?! Books, newspapers and magazines are becoming obsolete, traditional journalism along with it, and the opportunities for gainful employment are not as they used to be.

But I cannot fear the change, and neither can any of us. If we decide to belong to this world, we find a way for it to make sense to us. Like the Buddhist monks plugging in laptop computers and asking the Starbucks barista for the wifi password, we adapt to the world around us.

My heart goes out to all those who might be as I was: twenty-one or twenty-two years old, feeling like they don’t belong to a cubicle or a time sheet, yearning for the romance of waking with the sun to the smell of grass, sand and ocean.

As we grow older and look over the outcomes of past actions, we have the ability to offer advice to those on the cusp of future endeavors, and so to the lot of you on the brink of your journeys I say this: do not be too proud to seek the hand outstretched to you in all the ways in which it is. Open yourself to the world in every way, not just the ways that seem to fit some out-dated “standard”.

Remember, Siddartha realized that enlightenment couldn’t come from depriving yourself of materials, food and sleep after spending a long time torturing himself as an aesthetic. He did this, and to a lesser extent I did as well, so you wouldn’t have to.

(PS – I realize this may be an exercise in redundancy. If you are reading this post, you obviously are not an individual afraid of using technology and exploring resources of online information. Oh well, no regrets. Namaste and a hooby-jooby to you too.)

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