My wife and I sent our oldest child off yesterday to study for a year abroad. The day was filled with many of the emotions that filled our parents when we went off for our first study years twenty-plus years ago. We spent time at the airport reviewing protocol, getting everything checked off and enjoying a few final moments together before he went off to security. And then we waved our last in-person good-byes from behind the gated area as he meandered down the corridor to his flight gate.
But there was something different about this experience than what we and our folks experienced back in, as my wife is fond of calling them, the “olden days.” Back then, we owned no cell phones. Letters and pay phones (collect calls through an international operator, no less) were the primary ways that we communicated. And often long periods would pass between an experience and our ability to share it with loved ones back home (a particular challenge during the Gulf War). It was understood that we would communicate every so often and that it would be at a time when we could take a few minutes out of our busy days to share news and updates.
Now, the game has changed completely. No longer is there any wait time. Even yesterday, as my son’s native cell phone failed to work, we were able to communicate in real time with him and his driver via a friend’s phone and then, when his American phone was activated, WhatsApp. There was no mystery. No “You’ll never believe what happened when I got off the plane”. No, “School is great and I need more …” It was all unfolding in real time and that’s how we expect that it will continue to be, with pictures, videos and lots of texting replacing much of the calls and conversation.
We all recognize the great benefits in real-time communication. The ability to share moments from remote places and troubleshoot situations (faulty cell phones, cash shortages, etc.) quickly are things that we all appreciate.
But there’s something to be said about the mystery and wonder of it all. Something that gets lost in this hyper-informed, real-time world in which we live. No longer can we imagine what our children are doing 6000 miles away from home. No more are the days when we have to guess what their teachers and dorm rooms look like, or what they ate for dinner. We know it all, and we know it now.
Of course, there’s no turning back on this. The genie is out of the bottle and, for the most part, that’s a good thing. No, it’s a great thing. Still, I long for a time when we would spend more time on doing and experiencing while allowing our communications to follow at a time that in no way disturbed the moment. And I long for the time when we could imagine things as we wanted them to be, great, exciting, wondrous and special, rather than the detailed everyday look-in that saps all of the drama and mystery out of our minds.