Our connected world & its cost
CHIANG MAI, Thailand
I've been checking my emails here only once a day, like it's the 1990s all over again.
For many Americans, a great part of traveling in Asia is not receiving any messages during the day because almost everyone you know — halfway around the world, back home — is asleep. I wake up, read the overnight messages and forget about email. If only this could last.
Even that disconnected luxury goes only so far when almost half the world's population accesses the internet , and even forest monks at a remote mountain temple carry smartphones tucked into their saffron-colored robes. Along a narrow canal an hour outside of Bangkok, we passed a small wooden shack with open-air windows — and a 60-inch TV mounted inside the front door. Neighbors had sealed up their homes and installed air conditioners.
Everyone, it seems, hungers for the same cutting-edge technology, instant connectivity and modern convenience. That drive holds exciting promise for bringing us together, and perhaps a little danger for our demands on the planet as well.
Until the past few years, traveling away from home typically meant cutting off communications with family and friends, aside from a short postcard message or telegram. Studying in Moscow in the early 1990s, I traveled an hour to the main post office in the center city so I could send a fax to my parents in Greensburg. That seemed innovative at the time.
My friend Bill Nunn Jr., the famed Steelers scout , fondly recalled how he could travel across the South for work in the 1970s and spend a week or more without once calling the office or his home. Before dying in 2014, he lamented that contemporary scouts had become too connected to the internet, to their colleagues and to other scouts to form independent opinions.
Now, in northern Thailand, I can remain in constant contact with people all over the world and read the news as it happens. Using FaceTime, I talk with, and see, my parents almost as if I never left home. That kind of connectivity means we should view the world with more clarity. Our concerns for hunger, disease, the environment and each other shouldn't stop at international borders when we easily can share ideas and passions with people far away.
I think of my friend in Pittsburgh who roots for England's Liverpool soccer club, confident he'll truly “never walk alone” because some local pub will be showing a live feed of the game. That's a fun example, but information about human issues travels just as easily over governmental boundaries and oceans.
All of this modernity comes at a cost, though. As the global population explodes, humans place more demands on the Earth. And as more people adopt the latest technologies, our needs expand exponentially.
To power all of those devices, we need sustainable energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels that pollute our environment.
Sometimes it takes leaving home to realize how much people around the world have in common — and how we share a joint responsibility for each other and our home.
Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.