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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Communication Technology Doesn't Make Everything Better All the Time

Sometimes, modern communications make me pine for the old days.

As excited as I get about new technologies, especially the kind that facilitates and improves our experiences communicating with each other, I also think our over-reliance on communication technology can be a double-edge sword.

While we garner amazing amounts of information about people and places and things through advanced communication technology, I also believe we deprive ourselves of some of the mystery that existed -- and that some of us enjoyed --  before the invention of the tools we use to communicate on a daily basis basis.

Example.  When I traveled abroad as a college student, the adventure had a great element of mystery that's lacking for many of today's student travelers.  That's not to say that the anticipation of studying abroad is any less exciting for a college student in 2011.  I know that it is, as I recently witnessed my youngest daughter's anticipation of travelling abroad to study in Spain.

But the mystery, well, it wasn't quite at the same level for her as it was for me during my college years.  Let's just say it was different.

Before the availability of technologies like Google Street View, FacebookSkype or Picasa, among others, college students travelling outside the U.S. for a semester abroad knew what the places they were visiting looked like through still images in brochures and magazines and textbooks, what they were told by other travelers and by what they saw on TV, etc.  They began getting to know their new room mates when they flopped jet-lagged into their living quarters, an apartment in Barcelona or a dorm room in Florence.  They decided if living with them would be tolerable after they got to know each other the old fashioned way, and not through a digital first impression courtesy of Facebook.

There was a great mystery to it all, a level of excitement that is different (better?) than what today's students are experiencing.

When my daughter received an email from her travel abroad administrator with the names of her soon-to-be roommates, she immediately viewed their pages on Facebook.  The pending roommates friended each other, exchanged messages, wrote on each others walls, viewed each others photos, knew each others interests -- all before meeting in person.

Using Google Street View, my daughter found the neighborhood she would be a part of for the next four months.  Together on her laptop, we scrolled up and down her street, checking out the shops, the apartment buildings, trying to figure out where the closest cafe was.

Now that Emily is safely (and happy) in Barcelona and settling in, we've been using Skype's chat tool as if she were in her dorm room at Northeastern University in Beantown.

We've had a few Skype video calls too, using the technology nonchalantly, taking for granted we are 3,651 miles apart.

Some of you may still remember the days when everyone in the house got so excited when a family member or friend was calling the U.S. from Europe.

There was a time when such a call was an exciting, planned event. Things are different today -- often better, but not always.

This evening, my daughter put up a batch of photos, taken earlier today, in a Picasa web album. 

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