It has often be said that I can talk for England and maybe it’s true! Whilst not sure about whether the pedals will be turning with the cycling sisterhood today, I have been talking to the Czech branch of my family via Skype and at the end of the call we were amazed to discover we had been nattering for nearly 2 hours!
I can almost hear the cries of ‘So What?’ from those of you who have grown up in a world where communication written, virtual or audible via a screen has been the norm, but there is still something rather wonderful about the fact that I can sit in the lounge of my small terrace in Lancashire and hold a conversation with nearest and dearest in an extremely small village in the wilds of the Czech Republic. We are not talking Prague or Brno here, but a village with a population of less than 1000 , where the snow generally lasts almost Dr Zhivago style from November to April. Social media until recently was ( and still is for many residents) the loud-speaker system in the village which announces the arrival of vegetables for sale from the outlying farms outside the town hall – (architecture soviet inspired circa 1950).
Technology is often decried and I am not qualified to comment on many of the issues progress brings with it – I am only just getting to grips with concepts of Open Data, realising hacking is not a description of a winter cough, that Tumblr is not a typo describing an act in Cirque de Soliel, and as for yammer – well I work in sexual health so I had better not say where my mind went with that one!
One thing I do know though is that technology facilitates communication and we should not be fearful of embracing the change. One of the wisest things my Dad said to me was that the most powerful tool in changing the world would be communication. How true, I am old enough to remember the Vietnam War and how it changed the face of war reporting, I recently read an excellent article discussing how the recent Arab Spring and conflict in Libya had been notable not only for the role played by social media but the number of young and untrained photographers who had arrived in the war zone as freelancers, how print quality images were taken and transmitted using mobile phones giving instant access to information across the globe. The discussion was whether this new generation of photo journalists was devaluing the role of the professional who had served a long apprenticeship learning their craft. As someone who can, to this day remember the knock out blow of seeing the raw power and emotion of Don McCullin’s images in the Sunday Times Magazine from the conflict zones of Vietnam, Biafra and Northern Ireland that defined my teenage years I feel that however the images arrive is almost irrelevant, it is what they say and communicate to each of us that is important.
The family chatter this morning may not have been earth shattering to anyone outside of the family but it was important to us and topics ranged from dementia care, birthday gifts, the desire to be reincarnated as a cat in a good home and the impact of the current economic crisis on the eurozone. At the end of the 2 hours I know that we feel better connected, more informed and just happier for having had that personal contact.
When my Dad made that comment about communication the Czech Republic was still Czechoslovakia, we had only just had a telephone installed in the house, phone numbers still had letters in them to delineate local exchanges, and video phone imagery was a figment of the sci-fi writers imagination. Over the years our communication with Czech has improved. When my brother first went in the early 90’s we relied on a 5 min minute phone call on a dodgy line to a language school staff room and snail mail, together we have moved along a continuum of fax, mobiles, texts, e-mail, and now Skype.
Quite where all this will lead is anyones guess but two things I am sure of in the uncertain world of today – Dad was right, and if we embrace it the technology will keep us more closely connected than ever.