We visited a police station last week as part of our residency verification process for the citizenship applications. After walking past all 10 offices and the front lobby, there was not a computer or cell phone in sight. It was the first time in ages we remember seeing notepads, pens, crusty coffee cups and newspapers taking up desk space. If the officers needed something, they hollered, sauntered, or whistled from room to room. No email, texting or tweeting in this establishment.
I thought maybe it was a little pocket of tradition until I learned otherwise. I finally found WiFi on a street corner in Siena and having been “off-line” for days, I was eagerly checking in with family and friends when a lovely woman approached me and asked me, “ti sei perso?” (are you lost?) while pointing at my phone. I realized after looking around, that I was alone in my screen fascination. Teenagers were walking arm in arm eating gelato, children were playing a lively game of soccer, couples were drinking wine, and families were getting market goods for dinner. It was an amazing, bright Sunday afternoon in Piazza del Campo and I could not see another human with a screen.
Technology is here. It has a place in this culture but it is not at the table in a restaurant, or at a cafe with friends. It does not have a place in the piazza where people meet to spend time together and it is not invited to the weekly market. Relying on technology here would mean relying on people less and that is not a sacrifice most Italians are willing to make.