By : Jim Pinto,
By : Jim Pinto,
Spark Online, February 2002
It was also published in The San Diego Mensan, February 2002
During a recent trip to Canada, the taxi driver from the airport in Toronto gave me some remarkable insights into the new age. He and his family had emigrated from India a few years before, but his wife and children did not like the cold and went back home. He continued to drive his taxi for six months every year, earning the Indian equivalent of a princely income and then took a six-month vacation to be with his family. The airline ticket was a paltry expense, particularly when one books ahead as he did. When he returned home (usually during the winter months) he "lived like a king".
I got to thinking: this is what sailors have done throughout the ages, and they still do it—they go off to sea for several months a year, to generate income for the rest of the year and enough to retire eventually.
Which brings us to our theme: how the removal of travel and communications restraints in the new age re-defines the neighborhood, workplace and playground. Cheap air travel reduced the size of the world and allowed more people to access a larger work environment. The Internet now shrinks the world to a global village and vastly expands participation. In India, even though only relatively few people actually own computers, the cost of a seat in an Internet café is about $0.50 per hour, and they are always crowded. I've often wondered what these people were doing endlessly, hour after hour, day after day. And then it dawned on me—they were working, playing, socializing and romancing in the global village.
In the past, sailors and taxi drivers would physically travel to the places where their work was valuable. In today's knowledge-based society, knowledge is easily accessed with an Internet connection. So a graphic artist or a software developer can generate a regular and significant income while still being physically remote. This had led to significant business in new financial markets; for example, Infosys and Wipro, two software companies currently trading on Nasdaq (Infosys) and the NY stock exhange (Wipro) with market-caps in the billions, are located in Bangalore, India.
Socializing on the Net is a new age phenomenon stimulated by free email, live-keyboard-chat and web-cam video. I know several people who communicate frequently with e-friends around the world, exchanging family-photos, news, views and even "local" gossip; and, all the time they hardly know their neighbors next door.
In the past, people socialized in their neighborhood, playing chess or cards with neighbors and friends. Today, you can play a chess match, or bridge or backgammon on the Web. My wife loves backgammon and, while I quite like the game, I prefer not to play as often as she does. So now she plays on the Internet. It's amazing. There always seems to be a steady stream of players available, matched by experience and skill-level. You can keyboard-chat with your partner, or simply turn off their comments if you prefer; and you can keep playing for as long as you wish.
Romance on the Internet is already fairly common. Of course, any new cultural shift has its downside and everyone has an unpleasant story to relate. After exchanging messages and photos for over a year, one romance ended when the e-mail pal traveled halfway across the world to find out that the girl of his dreams was really a middle-aged, pot-bellied plumber.
On the good side, I know several couples that met happily through email. One couple exchanged emails for a couple of years, finding love and understanding from a far away friend to fill the gap left by an incompatible spouse; they are now happily married to the soul mate they met in cyberspace.
I know one young engineer, too shy to socialize, who met his bride via mail order from another continent. He sent in his specifications and was put in e-touch with suitable prospective brides in Malaysia. After several emails and exchange of photos, they talked (at no cost) via Internet-telephone, and finally met physically when he went to Malaysia to meet her and her family, and get married. They now live happily in San Diego, with two beautiful children.
To work, socialize or play in the virtual society of a global village, it is almost too easy to avoid actual physical movement and one wonders how humans will evolve in this new environment. Since there is no "virtual food", the chronically connected often forget to eat. If the trend persists, perhaps humans will deteriorate physically to slender wisps like those alien space beings we see in the movies.
Because I write a lot, and do a lot of e-correspondence, I have to force myself to disconnect from my computer to go out for my daily jog. I try hard to re-orient myself to spend some time bonding with people, but all I can come up with is a recitation of jokes that I received recently via email. And btw (by the way) I get strange looks when I lapse into email-lingo. When I make an effort to socialize in the super-market with the little old lady and her cute doggie, she probably thinks that nerdy fellow was lonely and so he tried to make conversation by cuddling Puddles.
It is hard to synchronize physical, mental and emotional instincts to socialize with real people. I keep reminding myself to go to the regular neighborhood social gatherings but, because I don't do it regularly, it is not easy to break into the camaraderie. So, I usually end up with another nerd who drones on incessantly about a newly discovered star in the fourth galaxy, while I try to sell him on the virtues of the new Apple iMac. All the time I'm thinking: if this was cyber-space, I could simply delete his email. And I realize—he's probably deleting mine...
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