Yesterday afternoon, in a bout of nostalgia, I opened the rarely visited cedar chest under my work desk. There are papers and images (old “slides”) from my two journeys in Africa in 1976-77 and 1978-80.
I unfolded copies of the published articles submitted to a Canadian news wire service, correspondence (snail mail) to and from family and friends in Canada, some Rhodesian government papers, an old stamp album (I was a philatelist), and writing drafts of stories submitted, but not published (or perhaps written but not sent.)
In some respects, these files are ancient.There was no publicly available Internet then. Telephone communication, if you could find it, would be restricted to life and death situations (and sadly I learned of my father’s death in two telephone calls, one from my mother advising he was very sick just a half-day before his death call.) The option to the phone was the telegraph and I received my job offer that way. This meant I could expect a delay of upwards of two to three months in regular non-urgent communication (as the postal mail traversed the world) and simply would not have live communication for upwards of six months to a year or more.
I can’t be certain if my voyage of discovery that concluded in 1980 would have been the same if communications are like they are today. Virtually anywhere in the world, you can find free wi-fi connections to link you home with instant video and audio, virtually free. This means there is no more disconnect; no true escape to another place to find your own way.
The new rules have perhaps made the world safer and more honest. Atrocities and un-reported (or under-reported) genocides or massacres now are virtually impossible to hide. (Conversely, terrorists based in Syria can communicate, incite and send off signals and reach out to people half-way around the world to conduct brutality on their behalf.)
Instant, virtually free communications also altered the economic dynamics for intellectual business activities. Fabrication shop drawings for steel projects in North America are now more commonly produced in India than the US and virtual assistants at hourly rates well below western minimum wages handle tasks formerly requiring support staff within the home country.
I think businesses which embrace and adopt the internationalized communication process will have the edge over those which don’t. While we cannot regain the adventurous separation that I can recall from the not-so-distant past, we can still enjoy the world’s diversity and opportunities. Let’s keep our eyes, and minds, open.
Mark Buckshon can be reached by email at email@example.com or by commenting below.