You’ve got to love the internet. Thanks to blogs and Twitter and LinkedIn and the like, I’m finding all these folks around the globe who share my interests. My community, as it were. I just spent the morning working my way through a labyrinth of news related to Historic Scotland, all because of a LinkedIn update I received from Simon Gilmour, current Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, a charitable institute founded in 1780 of which I am a member.
Simon linked a news article about Holyrood debating the use of technology to promote Scotland’s heritage (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2011/10/30135826). Exciting times. And inevitably it brought to mind just how useful these technologies are; how beneficial they would have been to me, for instance, when I was on my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship just out of college. (The Watson is a fellowship akin to the Rhodes or Marshall, but given to graduates with an independent streak. Students who can’t get what they need through traditional academic means.)
Now, that was back in 1988. Before the world changed. There was no internet, no computers (let alone laptops or tablets), and no cell phones. Imagine! Me traipsing around Europe, old school—just my backpack, my camera (you guessed it—not yet digital) and my journal. (Journals, plural, as it happened; I was gone a whole year.) My parents didn’t know on a weekly basis if I was alive or dead. I’d call them every Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. just to check in—which meant that I ended up in quite a few dodgy phone booths in dark and rainy alleys with pounds of change in my pocket, often in the middle of nowhere, to make sure those calls got made. In desperation, they installed an answering machine, spanking-new technology then, too, to ensure they didn’t miss my call from the wilderness.
In order to get mail, I had to rent a post office box in London. Weeks would go by, mail would pile up, until I made my way back to London to retrieve it. I’d head to the pub right across from the Central Post Office, order a pint, and pour over news from my loved ones, often weeks old, but still precious to me.
I loved it, of course. Who wouldn’t? The best, and worst, year of my life. The best because I loved what I was doing. A true pilgrimage, much like the kind I’ve been writing about in my books. The worst, because I’d often go weeks without having a meaningful conversation with anyone. It was a debilitating kind of loneliness. It built up over time. It was almost as if, in communing with the artefacts of those long dead, I forgot how to speak to the living.
That wouldn’t happen now, of course. What a difference a few decades make! I could tweet my morning musings over tea from the Hebridean island of Lewis, post a blog from Hadrian’s Wall, geotweet from the hillfort of Dunadd. Update my friends daily on Facebook. And call whomever I liked at anytime from just about anywhere.
So, thank you to Simon Gilmour this morning, and let’s applaud Holyrood. You won’t need to leave your armchair anymore to visit Historic Scotland. Although if you can, you should …