Catching Up on Four Years of American Culture, Part 1

Being in Peru for four years has given us a fresh perspective on what is going on in the United States.  If one watches a tree grow by staring at it everyday, one does not witness any growth.  But if you come back in four years, you can see considerable change.  That’s what we feel like with America.

So here are a few changes we have noticed.  Since I don’t like long posts, I’ll divide them up in several installments.  The first two are technological changes:

  • Texting.  I knew I was out of practice driving.  When I hit the US roads, I thought I had picked up bad habits in Peru.  It wasn’t until I notice that every other driver was texting: hence the slow drift into my lane.  Incredible, Americans are driving more like Peruvians!  Another reality I discovered was how texting is taking a more central role of communication.  While living in Peru, I never texted.  It felt overly laborious to thumb numerals two or three times to communicate three words on my old cell phone.  However, during my first months in Memphis, I noticed another novelty: many people would not return my phone calls.  I tried leaving them multiple messages, emailing them, facebooking them to no avail.  Then I realized that I had not tried to text them.  This time texting would be easier on my handy-dandy iPhone.  So within seconds — wallah — they responded.  Amazing, I had access again!
  • The Ubiquitous Smartphone.  Along with texting, another technological development is the ubiquity of the cell phone, especially smartphones.  Back in 2008 I noticed everyone was talking on the phone.  Now, I noticed that everyone everywhere is looking at their phone.  I can see the logic of checking mail, twitter, or facebook while standing in line at the store.  But what was new for me to see so many glaring at their phone at social gatherings, parties, and even during Sunday worship.  It only took me three months to fall into this bad habit.  When I felt the tiniest-bit of boredom, I would whip out my iPhone just as fast as Luke’s light saber.  I had to see what was going on in Twitter world!  I suspect Peru will follow suit in a few years.

Stay tuned for some more observations….

32 thoughts on “Catching Up on Four Years of American Culture, Part 1

  1. So interesting that being gone such a relatively short time puts everything into a new perspective. I’m so sad about the texting thing. Even after all the media hype about not texting and driving, people do it anyway.

  2. Yeah you are right, I didnt really text and I told my self I wouldn’t but after some friends sent me text I gave in and now that’s about all I do. It came in handy with the last girl I dated she lived in Oregon and I live in North Carolina, it was nice because we could pretty much keep up with each other every minute of everyday.

  3. Texting while driving is now being banned in many locations. Which, ironically, has served to INCREASE the number of texting related accidents as drivers are now hiding their phones and texting out of sight, therefore looking down and not at the road.

  4. Hopefully this won’t last…people are looking down at their phones way too much instead of enjoying the actual world around them. I miss just hearing people’s distinct voices instead of looking at words on a screen. I know things are changing, but I wish it didn’t mean losing touch with people in a physical “I’m right here in front of you” sort of way.

  5. Thanks for this post!
    I’m a young Italian living in Canada. Few weeks ago I wrote “10 things I don’t understand about Canada (and Usa???)” here the link:
    Let me know what you think about North America through Italian eyes!

  6. Oh, if it’s not driving while doing your makeup and reading the news paper, while eating your breakfast, it has to be texting. (Or add texting to all of that) And you get our wonderful drivers! When we go on any road trips we like to play the spot the texter game and you totally can by the drifting!
    Its such a strange world.. instead of how many words a minute you can type its how many words a minute you can many fb friends you have…yikes to things ever change!
    – Minka

  7. I spent 2 years in Kyrgyzstan in the Peace Corps from 1998-2000, and I remember some of the technological advances of those two years: being able to burn your own mixed CDs (!), and the fact that every store seemed to advertise a website all of a sudden. At the time, I remember thinking, why on earth do I need to see a web page for all these stores? How boring would that be?

    So I understand where you’re coming from — although I still refuse to check the web on my smartphone, partly because it’s expensive with my calling plan, and partly because I would probably never look up! *smile*

  8. Four years is probably just enough time to see a giant disparity in culture…very interesting observations. As a non-texting-while-driving Smartphone user, I can understand your frustrations! 🙂

  9. Half the time, I look at my phone to do all that stuff too, but the problem I have found is that after a while, nothing has changed. HMMM
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  10. Hi, in case you’re not aware (although I’m guessing you are), what you’re experiencing is called “reverse culture shock”. I’ve “been there, done that” at least twice:

    Is social-networking not big in Peru yet? Because I’m Indonesia and it’s HUGE here. So are smartphones. I had an impression that the middle class in developing countries pick up on these kind of things extremely fast for some strange reason.

    1. Thanks for the links. Social networking would be much bigger on cell phones, however, most people cannot afford them nor the coverage plan G4 network. Last time I checked, it was about $150/month – which is very expensive for most Peruvians. If their economy continues to blossom has it has in the past four years, I suspect they will have more and more smartphone customers.

  11. Wow I can’t imagine the reverse culture shock you must be experiencing! I’m currently living in China and am moving back to the States in February. I suspect life will be much different than when I left. Good luck on your adjustment!

  12. Thanks for the refreshing post!!

    I wondered if anyone felt the same way. I know some people who were very fun to hang out with but turned into zombie-like creatures since they got a smartphone. Some of them get really anxious when we take away their toy.

    Anyway, looking forward to part 2!

  13. My wife and I went to Peru last year, I can only imagine the culture shock coming back after four years! I’d think, however, that American drivers – texting or not – would seem rather tame compared to Peruvian drivers. I’ll never forget out first cab ride from the airport in Lima to our hotel when we thought we were going to die. By the end of our trip, we were accustomed to the different driving style and impressed that we never saw any wrecks. I grew up in metro Atlanta and know a thing or two about traffic, but can’t imagine driving through Lima.

  14. We are an expat family and up to August 2010 we were stationed in the US (lived there for 4 yrs). The texting while driving concept is now viral and quite scary. The sad thing is that I got caught in it. I got edgy while driving if I heard my phone ringing or a text message coming in and I couldn’t get to it. I felt addicted to my Blackberry. We are now in Indonesia and the addiction to phones is also quite obvious. The beauty however is that many families, both expats and locals, have drivers so a lot of the danger has been eliminated. Thank heavens. What I need to do now is find a solution to my new addiction called wordpress.

  15. Nice post.

    In spite of the fact that I not living in USA, I had those habits, let’s say, for a while: from 2006 I was looking into my phone and texting a lot. I am also addicted to smartphones…

    The bad part is that I am used to text, but the rest is not, and there is vice-versa problem that you described.

    Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

  16. It’s a novel brand of culture-wide ADD. We’re constantly being bombarded with information and images, so staring at a smartphone might be the only way to keep up with it all.

    I know people who look at their smartphones while they’re doing things like watching TV and movies- quite the multimedia frenzy.

    Merry Christmas!

    Geist Bites

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