Friday, December 11, 2009

Electric Radio Machine!

It shames me sometimes to think that, not too long ago, Peace Corps volunteers didn’t have cell phones or the internet. (They did have motorcycles, and that assuages my shame somewhat.) Not only do I have these things, my kids have these things. My orphaned and neglected children have Facebook accounts. They ask me for Friendster “codes” and I have to admit that I don’t know what they’re talking about. They show me how to do things on my cell phone. The only thing that recently has made me more feel out of touch was when The Office started making pop-culture jokes that I don’t understand.

I don’t begrudge my kids their Friendster and Facebook. Really, they use these websites for their actual purpose – making and communicating with friends. I mainly use Facebook as a repository for interesting and/or ethnic names in an attempt to make myself seem more worldly. I routinely cull the Smiths and Joneses.

Just the fact that I can use Facebook in a developing country – every day if I really wanted (which I don’t), since my center has an internet connection – shows how the world has changed since the Peace Corps was inaugurated in 1961.

In my head, New York City in 1961 was a little hamlet bustling with horse-drawn buggies. Australia had not yet been discovered. Sears & Roebuck catalogues, instead of featuring the newest iPods and Android cell phones, had black and white drawings of state-of-the-art manual wheat threshers, and on the back page ran a splendid, hand-colored advertisement for the “revolutionary new communication medium – yours for only $XX plus shipping and handling – the amazing Electric Radio Machine!”


I wasn’t around back then, so these are just guesses. Regardless of their accuracy, the fact remains: things have changed. I’m in the Philippines and I’m writing this on my laptop computer. I can use my cell phone at any time to cross the nine thousand miles between “home” and home. (It’s way too expensive for me to do that much, though.) Wifi access is an hour away in Iloilo City.

I use all these things, but I sometimes feel guilty that I do. Every new communication apparatus gathers our little human islands closer together, stretching the skin of the earth tight and snipping off the excess, throwing it out into the void from which mysteries and riddles cannot escape. It seems like the world is shrinking so fast, and with it the spirit of adventure, the sense of the unknown lurking just over the horizon.

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