Chance Encounter: A Jaded Waitress & the Thoughtful Stranger (by Savannah Brown, WR 122, Winter 2015)

Culture has grown into a daunting force that demands virtual participation in return for relevance. In the city I call home even a minimum wage position in a restaurant requires headshots, networking connections, and an impressive online following. Feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of keeping up with the fast pace of my generation, I hid in a nook of the world I thought to be devoid of all things artistic. I stumbled upon a dive bar just outside of an area locally known as Skid Row. The place was missing any visible signage, it had no WiFi, and it was selling the cheapest whiskey in town. It was perfect for an after work escape. I found myself in reluctant conversation there with a young man I didn’t pay much attention to. The both of us had become weary of our constant and necessary efforts to remain relevant in the workforce. I stared forward for the length of the conversation, selfishly involved in my own neat drink. Between sparse fragments of discourse and sips from my glass I was lost in nostalgia; reminiscing in my own mind of the past when the Internet was only just being introduced to my elementary school curriculum. I missed the time before viral videos, vacuous profile updates, and a counted list of virtual friends gained so much value.

Art and Culture have taken on those new forms of expression today by way of technology. Culture, more specifically, has become more than valued traditions and reinforced beliefs. It has turned, in part, into a virtual entity gaining life from the Internet. Culture has undeniably expanded to include Social Media and an Internet presence. Even the restaurant that employed me required a link to my FaceBook Profile in addition to my resume and cover letter. An online identity has become so standard to the general public that it has come to be a requirement for employers and their prospective new hires. I needed a substantial amount of friends listed on a website in order to serve food and clean tables part-time. It was that moment that made me realize how contemporary Culture has become.

Because we as people continuously grow in areas of art, history, and values, Culture continues to redefine itself. Technology has been a long developing aspect of Culture, and now makes us capable of capturing our human essence in an immaterial form online. Social Networking websites have become a standard form of communication and proof of validity. It is now commonplace to condense one’s personality into a blurb with an adjacent snapshot and amass like profiles as online “friends” of your own. It is within these massive networks of people that trends begin, independent Arts find a voice, and brief fame is sought after. Human interaction has been transformed into the click of a button with the speed of electricity, giving our Culture omnipresence and anyone the ability to update it. The reinforcement of ideals, frivolous or not, is now a constant possibility by using the Internet. There are enriching aspects of the Internet that add to our culture and are popularized with the widespread use of technology. Families have been reunited with young loved ones after the issuance of online Amber Alerts, monumental moments like Presidential speeches can be streamed at-will, and new music and movies are more available than ever before. Our culture is now proudly inescapable and reflects an ever-changing image of ourselves.

The bar I managed to find for myself gave temporary solace from the high-speed world, a blur of emails, text messages, and thumbnails. I was nearing the end of my drink so I paid my tab and left without much regard for the stranger beside me. The bartender caught my attention as I made my way out to the street. “From the guy next to you,” she said, already turning back into the dimly lit room. Curious, I unfolded a scroll under the light inside my car. I sat in awe on my ride home; my conversational counterpart had been illustrating me while we spoke. I was in search of an abyss in which to hide from the world and its constant stream of information. Instead the night produced a reflection of myself through an artist’s eyes. Furthermore, I recognized the signed name across the bottom. It belonged to Street Artist, Man One, who illustrated the streets I grew up on. I was distracted with avoiding all the superfluous features of Modern Culture and so I was blind to the human experience right before my eyes. I was fortunate enough to experience culture transformed into an original, physical art form by an artist I admire.

My chance encounter with an artist reminded me that participation, real understanding, and intimate communication are the foundations of Art and Culture. Changes in technology continue to revolutionize the way we communicate and impact our human experience. As a society we have given Culture a new meaning by creating valid forms of expression online. I sank into my bar stool thinking I could avoid Art and Culture by avoiding the Internet. I was wrong. Art and Culture will continue to develop into a powerful force with the aid of convenient technologies; however, their roots will remain in Human interaction.

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