“Have laptop, will travel,” could be an alternative title for this blog, but I am getting a little tired of all this alternative wordsmithing. Aren’t you? What’s in a name after all. But when you put “digital” with “wanderlust” I do get a little concerned and confused. Carrying your laptop to a foreign destination does not quite have the same connotation or actual experience of “living” in a foreign land. These digital nomads typically travel to and work in another culture for a 30-day co-working experience. So it truly becomes a shared work experience for a small group of like-minded technological-savy individuals coming from a wide variety of countries, averaging in age from the mid- to late 20s and 30s.
The two main groups that seem attracted to this cross-cultural experience are millenials interested in taking time off from traditional work and aging baby-boomers who have financial resources and flexibility. Could be a life-changing experience, but I am not sure that having all the latest technology will make it so. In fact, it might get in the way. As one of the past participants noted: “The opportunity to go live in a foreign city for a month and interact with the local people and experience their culture – that’s priceless to me. But culturally, we need to understand each other for the world to work, and this is a way to achieve that.”
Understanding each others’ cultures may not always be a simple, painless process. But in the end, I think these digital nomads will easily benefit more in terms of what they learn and experience in these cultures than in what they may have contributed technologically.
Maybe technology can really help us all stay connected in the “time of Trump” wherever we are. I guess we are all stil free to travel whenever and wherever we want, but I am not really that sure anymore? Luckily we now have video “portals” that allow us to keep in touch with relatives, possibly refugees, who may be stranded in some country that our “so-called” president has now decided is inhabited by terrorists who are intent on infiltrating the heartland of America. Can someone really give this current White House occupant a more reasoned and experienced view of who are real foreign enemies might be. Russia somehow comes to mind.
Thanks to these video portals, American immigrants from majority Muslim countries (not sure of the exact number now since it seems to vary on Trump’s whims on a given day) now have an opportunity to share their thoughts and stories about their lives in these times. If they don’t, that’s okay too. I can remember a time when a newly-formed NGO, Global Nomads, just before the Iraqi War, conducted a similar type of video exchange between American and Iraqi teenagers. It all seemed so hopeful at that time, and then the bombs fell. Global Nomads is still pursuing such video portal exchanges around the world, http://www.gng.org
But even the mundane commonalities and awkward exchanges resonate: there is the sudden proximity to a person who might share your favorite soccer team, who likes to hang out at coffee shops and scroll through Facebook – even if they happen to live in a sprawling, dust-covered refugee camp where they share a single tent with several family members.
Don’t retreat into video games and computer screens: engage in social activism and politics to create a more just world. This is not your usual encyclical message from the world leader of Catholicism, but this is not your typical pope. “Dear young people, we didn’t come into this world to vegetate, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: To leave a mark.” Pope Francis decried a modern escapism into consumerism and computers that isolate people. In many ways I believe this has become an unintended consequence of technology’s power to connect us with the rest of the world. It also empowers us to escape into a more self-centered existence.
Francis’ call challenges Christians to be more courageous, to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes, and to set out on new and unchartered paths. Leave your comfort zones and tend to the needy of the world was also a major part of the pope’s appeal. I believe that technology is also a tool that can help us reach out to the needy of the world. This may not have been part of the Pope’s message that day, but I am sure he wouldn’t mind this interpretation. You can go online to find an organization that may be of interest to you in meeting the Pope’s challenge. Have a look at the many social action websites listed on charity.org.
Please also keep those walking shoes handy. Maybe you will also be inspired to set out on new and unchartered paths.
Just wanted to keep you posted on the daily celebrations here in Vietnam. This is all new to me as well, but I would like to share with you a little bit about what I am learning. Let’s start off with the national holidays which you probably didn’t know about before. Today is Ho Chi Minh’s 126th birthday. Well, he is not really around to celebrate with us, as you know, but there are special exhibits and performances throughout Vietnam especially in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). If you are so inclined, you can refer to him as “Uncle Ho.”
Yesterday was Buddha’s birthday. Like Ho Chi Minh, he is not around to celebrate with us either, having died 2,560 years ago. Buddhists are still very much a minority in Vietnam, but they are being encouraged by their Supreme Patriarch here to make more contributions to national construction and defense, environmental protection and climate change efforts. I am not really sure how you can improve your contributions in these areas. I am just reporting on what I read in the papers here FYI.
Now for some technology news. May 18th is also Vietnam’s Science and Technology Day. I don’t think there are any planned national celebrations related to the implementation of educational technology in the schools, but if I hear of anything else, I will pass that information along as well. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.
I am not really that sure how to comment on what this all means (and I apologize for the lateness of this blog on a M0nday night in the U.S.). But I am fascinated about the concept of having child White House Science Advisors, particularly since the one recommended by President Obama was fortunate enough to have an iPad in his hands as a toddler. As an adolescent, he has now been successful in making toys and miniatures on his 3-D printer.
What’s not to like about all this? Mostly, there is a lot to like, and this story should be an inspiration to us all. But why do STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) success in the early academic grades warrant a presumption of better preparation for livelihood in the twenty-first century? Some might say that we are limiting our children’s futures with such early predeterminations. And as a parent in the end of the last century and now a grandparent in the current one, I continue to believe that all of our current school-age students will probably need some facility in STEM subjects, and many others as well. I think the real challenge is to prepare these students to be much broader and curious learners. The world is changing much too quickly.
Our children need to feel that they contribute in many varied and meaningful ways. STEM subjects may be the routes for many bright students, but there are also many other avenues for future learning and success in this century.
Cargo shipping containers are being converted for use as “spaces” to connect individuals internationally. You have probably seen these containers stacked at any large port across the U.S., and perhaps most prominently at major harbors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. When equipped with internet connectivity, the container “space” also seems to provide an atmosphere which is uniquely suited for very personal one-to-one conversations about topics that are of common interest. The only prescribed script is a simple prompt of “What would make a good day for you?” Each session lasts twenty minutes.
While university campuses may be home to many of these portals around the world, the very nature of the containers’ mobility make it very versatile in reaching out to different communities. Some have permanent locations, while others are exclusively mobile. Full body images are projected on a giant screen which seems to create a more personal experience. At the College Park location, individuals there were connected with others in Afghanistan, Mexico and Honduras. Some of the other permanent locations include Cuba, Iran, and San Francisco.
The container portals are the brain child of Amar Bakshi, a former foreign correspondent. Ironically, Bakshi found that the most informative exchanges over the course of his reporting years were the times when he turned off his camera, his cell phone was dead, and he would talk to the person sitting next to him on a bus. He felt that these conversations were very honest and expansive because “we weren’t concerned that what we said would get back to our mothers or bosses.” Maybe that’s also what happens when you’re talking to someone inside a shipping container in another part of the world?
Monday will be Memorial Day in the U.S., and we are all reminded to take time to remember those who are no longer with us, and perhaps spend more time with those who are the most important in our daily lives. Perhaps the title of this blog deserves some explanation in this respect. “TechtoExpress” is not only intended to reflect an “express” mode in the rapidity of our dealings with others. It surely has that capacity in terms of how quickly we can communicate on any topic with anyone in the world. Technology also empowers us with many more tools to “express” our thoughts and emotions using new powerful digital tools. More expressive opportunities are now available for more people, who may become the new “artists” of a new century.
Happily we can also now connect with family and friends even when we are not able to be with them personally. Such tools as FaceTime and Skype enable us to do that in real time. So let’s always remember those we love and those who loved us and now live in our memories. And be grateful for the technology that enriches our daily lives so that we can “be” with those we love in so many ways.
Many worry that technology is rapidly accelerating our loves so that we have less time to spend with our closest friends and family members. I don’t think it has to be that way. Do you?
Happy Memorial Day Weekend!
I know I posted earlier this week about MOOCs and online courses at Arizona State University, and I am going to comment on higher education again and one university’s initiative on global learning. There is clearly a difference in this school’s approach to enrich their curricula and expand students and faculty’s ability to collaborate and learn globally. In this case, Missouri S&T appears committed to developing a longer term strategic plan that combines distance and online course delivery rather than offering online courses as simply alternatives to on-campus attendance. They have also instituted an award system for faculty whom excel in teaching online.
For the past academic year, nearly two dozen faculty received Teaching Excellence awards for either outstanding or superior (commendations) performance. I think this is a clear and powerful message from the university’s leadership that they are committed to expanding their global reach through their online and distance learning capabilities.
This is a great paradigm for learning in the 21st Century. Using the power of technology in the service of greater global knowledge and partnership.