Australia. For anyone who has not been there, the name may bring up images which have mostly been imbedded into our conscience by the media. A giant island in the middle of the ocean, pretty much on the other side of the world from us, where things are upside down and backwards from our perspective, where their summers happen during our winters, and vice versa. Where we’ve heard their drains flow in the opposite direction to ours because of the gravitational pull, and where the cars drive on the opposite side of the road compared to our conventions. A place that is teeming with wildlife that is both exotic and unique, and with a climate that is both beautiful and extreme. We have also been exposed to Australia through the Olympics, and through the accomplishments of their amazing athletes. And there is, after all, the graceful Opera House, a beautiful display of architecture and culture. It is a landmark that, although conceived in the 1940s and completed in 1973, has futuristic angles that echo the notion of a vibrant and modern city that is Sydney. But the fact remains: for many who have not been there, the idea of traveling to Australia is like traveling to a far-away, distant land.
I spent this past week in Sydney, a most amazing city that is a must-visit destination for travelers worldwide. During my busy week of meetings, outdoor activities and a bit of touring around, not once did I feel disconnected from my TGS team, colleagues and friends (who are scattered throughout the world), nor my family back at home. In fact, technology being as seamless as it is today, helped me make contacts in Australia well before my trip. My agenda was quickly filled with places to visit, people to meet, and activities of all kinds so that I could experience as much of the beautiful city as possible. And at the same time, I was able to bring back as much of Australia with me to those who have never been there, through videos and photos shared online. All this without feeling the least bit removed or disconnected from the rest of the world or the people in it who make my life what it is.
Let me share a few examples of how technology made all this possible. Through Skype and Webex, I was able to collaborate on the TGS curriculum with a team member back in Canada. I provided technical support for a few TGS team members worldwide. I video Skyped with my wife and kids (my 1 year old’s face lighting up when he saw me online was priceless). I also shared pictures and comments about my experiences in Sydney with many of my colleagues via Twitter and Tumblr. I even sang happy birthday to my nephew via an iPhone video (and saw a video of his party sent back by my brother). Despite traveling alone, there were very few times that I felt disconnected from the many interdependent relationships in my life.
I did all this while keeping up a full schedule of face-to-face business meetings, research and technical work. I was even able to take the time to enjoy the fact that I was in a new and exciting country by running, kayaking, scuba diving and general sightseeing. After all, there was a reason that I flew all that way in the first place. Online interaction is not a total replacement for relationships. My wife tells me that the kids were itching to get back to play after a good long Skype chat with dad, for example. It is, however, the seamless way in which we can now move between online and in-person communication, to build and maintain relationships while we are apart that continues to amaze me (despite all my work in this field).
Many times we hear critics say that technology makes us more disconnected and antisocial, makes social interaction devalue over its online counterpart. Clearly, my experiences show that the exact opposite is true. With intelligent design leading the way to efficient and appropriate use, technology helps me to connect with people I would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet, it deepens and furthers the connections which already exist, and it sets the framework on which to build future relationships.
TGS students and teachers will use technology significantly during their experiences with us. However, it will always be with the aim to augment and enhance the “real world”, not to desensitize to it; to build and maintain relationships, not to pull away from them.
Funny enough, I am writing most of this post from a plane, which is just about the place I’m disconnected. I guess a little offline downtime never hurt anyone either…
– Mike (CTO of TGS)