Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Journeys of the mind

The day after I arrived in India on a cultural exchange in the fall of 1991, we were invited to a reception at the Canadian Embassy. I was talking with someone about the baseball pennant race back home when the ambassador interrupted us to say, “You won’t care about that soon enough.” He meant that we would become absorbed in Indian life, and disconnected from life back home (perhaps I would become a cricket fan instead).

He was right about being cut off from what went on at home. I was placed in a small town with no TV, newspapers, radio or Internet (in 1991 not many people used it in Canada, let alone India). A month after the end of the baseball season, I got a letter from my parents. They had enclosed a newspaper clipping from the sports section of the Evening Times Globe. It told of the Minnesota Twins victory over the Atlanta Braves in World Series.

Much has changed in 15 years - in the world of technology, though, not the world of Mark. The baseball season began earlier this week, and I listened to the first Boston Red Sox game at an Internet cafĂ© in Accra, just as I would have at home in Saint John. The next day, I read the analysis of the game on The Boston Globe online. It’s worth mentioning that Accra is a big city and that you can’t find internet cafes in many small towns, but New Delhi did not have high-speed internet in 1991 and neither did Accra.

The other thing we didn’t have back then was the cell phone. I would go a month without talking to mom, which was very difficult for her - and for me. The cell phone has changed the way we communicate in Canada, but it has revolutionized communication in the developing world, particularly in rural areas that never even had landlines (They’ve skipped that generation of technology entirely). You will find a little shack or stand on every street corner in cities and towns that sell pre-paid phone cards. Not many people have landlines, even in Accra. I talk to mom now most Sundays, most times with a line as clear as if I were calling from 15 minutes away.

I’m reading The Shadow of the Sun, a book about Africa by Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski. At the beginning he writes about how it used to take a long time to travel to faraway places – whether by foot, horseback or ship – and this allowed people to gradually adapt to a change in climate and culture. “Today nothing remains of these gradations,” he writes. “Air travel tears us violently out of snow and cold and hurls us that very same day into the blaze of the tropics. Suddenly, still rubbing our eyes, we find ourselves in a humid inferno.”

Communications technology now affords us similar journeys of the mind. It’s no longer true that, as the ambassador to India once said to me, “You won’t care about that soon enough.” When I listen to a game over the Internet, I’m transported across the ocean to a ballpark, the preferred trip of my childhood; when I talk to my mother, I see her standing by the dishwasher with a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other, and dad sitting at the table eating his dinner.

And then there is this online diary, which affords our friends and family glimpses into the lives that we’re living here. It bridges the gap for those who did not make the journey with us.

- Mark


Anonymous said...

Mark, What a great blog. I teally enjoyed it. Your Dad did remember opening day of baseball too. It is really amazing how we can communicate so easily. Also travel to different places so quickly. I can't wait for Dad to come home and read the blog. Thanks for keeping us so up to date.I loved your comments about home too.
Love, Mummy

Anonymous said...

Mark, I really related to this post on your blog. We have so many more tools of almost instantaneous communication available to us now. I often wonder what Marshall McLuhan would have to say about all these electronic and digital forms of communication. When I read your postings I do feel that I am an "armchair traveller" (thankfully for us all!) with you and Janet. Love, Jen P.S. I read that the Red Sox just had an embarassing loss...