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Archive for the ‘Technology and Internet’ Category

There is a lot said about the evil that results from social media. We are acutely aware of this in New Zealand, after the gunman who killed over 50 people at mosques in Christchurch last year live-streamed his insane attack on Fbk. There’s a great deal of hatred on social media sites. But unless you go to public sites and get involved in public discussions, or make your posts public with hashtags, you can avoid the worst. I don’t actually understand why you would seek this out. It’s very much a case of reader/writer beware! I never comment on public posts, only join very specific groups, and don’t get involved in Twitter for precisely that reason – it is all too public.

But there is much I can do as a result of social media sites, and it is all about relationships.

Recently, I have loved being able to:

  • See the first few weeks of the life of my newest great-nephew, and enjoy the happiness of my niece, in Australia.
  • Get photos of another niece and slightly older great-nephews (after two generations of girls, the next generation is all boys!) who live in Western Australia in a place we may never visit. They may not know me, but I know them.
  • Stay in touch with my friends from my student exchange 40 years ago, chat with them, laugh and cry with them, and support them through cancer journeys. It is a delight.
  • Equally, keep in touch with Thai student exchange sisters. We would struggle to write letters or email on a regular basis, but I love being able to observe their lives from afar.
  • Maintain relationships with women I met online, whether through ectopic losses, infertility blogging, or fellow writing enthusiasts.
  • See friends from completely separate walks of life “liking” the same articles, or sharing the same jokes. However I met them, it confirms that my friends are generally intelligent, caring, and funny people.
  • Share in the travels of friends. Of course, at this time of year there aren’t too many travels to share in. But a trip domestically can still be amazing, and I love seeing where others go, and what they enjoy doing. Soak in some beauty. Friends share sunsets. I’m in a Fbk group of photographers in my city, and I can only dream of taking pictures as good as the ones that are show-cased there. But it is inspiring. Insta is great fun too – focused on photos, and much of it is just joy and beauty. That is my experience anyway, because I’m not someone who wants to take selfies, or compete over the number of likes, and just love being able to see beautiful images of amazing or even really ordinary places. And share a few of my own.

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Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite thing to do is to travel. Right now, of course, there is no chance of travelling internationally. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, I immediately told myself that I wouldn’t be travelling until the rest of the year, and made my peace with that. Not long afterwards, that got extended by about a year, and so since then I have been hoping for travel in 2022. But I am not relying on that, and I know there is no guarantee, especially as I see cases skyrocket overseas in developing countries that will struggle to contain the virus. Worse, I see the cases still skyrocketing in developed countries with educated citizens that should know better. So there is considerable uncertainty as to if, not when, this situation will ever resolve.

Ironically, the EU and other countries would welcome New Zealand tourists right now – Fbk was advertising Greece to me today (ads I’d never seen before). But the reality is that most Kiwis will not be risking travel, as to get to Europe or many other places we have to take at least two long haul flights, sharing planes with passengers from countries that have not contained COVID19 as we have.

So, the reality of the situation is settling in, and I am starting to feel a little trapped. We’re here at the bottom of the world in the little dinghy lifeboat, with a few other little dinghy lifeboats in pockets around the world. And together those of us in the tiny lucky lifeboats are watching the rest of the world go down with the COVID-19 ship. This analogy is not mine, but courtesy of a cartoon I saw recently. (I’ve been trying to find it online to give credit to the cartoonist, but I can’t.)

So, for the time being, we are socially distancing from the rest of the world here in NZ, yet with full freedom of movement and the comfort that – almost certainly – there is no COVID-19 out in the community. That means that we can travel domestically, so our only travel options are here, on the islands of New Zealand. (There is talk of opening up a “bubble” with other countries that are effectively COVID free, but these seem a long way off.)

I remember a NZ Tourism promotion in the 1980s, exhorting us to travel in New Zealand before we took off to see the world.

Now of course, we don’t have any other option. New Zealand is a relatively small island country – bigger than the UK, but slightly smaller than Japan or Italy. The advantage of New Zealand though is that we have very different terrain (and therefore, experiences). This is not true of many other places we have been. The US might share tropical islands and volcanoes and deserts and mountains, but not as close together as in NZ. Switzerland or Norway are both stunningly beautiful, but they don’t really vary. Yet here we can drive through rain forests with glaciers followed by lush farmland, cross desert plateaus or mountain passes,  visit vineyards, and end the day in lakes surrounded by snowy mountains. Nowhere is more than a few hours from the coast. You can see an example of this in my Favourite Road Trip post about a particular route driving around the South Island here. Even in winter, the north has mild temperatures barely requiring a coat, and the south (or the mountains and plateau in the north) has snow and freezing temperatures. This gives us a great choice of destinations and things to do.

But our landscape’s variety means that it is easy to drive past some wonderful areas that are worthy of exploration – especially if we have time constraints. The road trip I wrote about could take months if you stopped at each place to truly investigate it and enjoy what it had to offer. So although I’ve driven past a lot of places in the past, I now have the opportunity to explore destinations in more depth. I can simply relax in different environments, or take trips that are usually dominated by overseas tourists, and support our local, suffering, tourist industry. Right now it is winter, which means I won’t be sitting out in vineyards sipping on wine, but maybe I’ll be inside enjoying a glass beside a roaring fire. I’m not a skier, though I’d love to be, but maybe I can take advantage of the temperatures to travel to the mountains to enjoy some snow for a change.

Whilst some people might suggest that NZers are smug about our country (as a British rugby writer recently pointed out – out of jealousy, if you ask me!), there has always been a tendency amongst us of “cultural cringe” or thinking that “real life happens in other places.” Despite our distance from the rest of the world, Kiwis travel a lot. Many of us are having to put international plans on hold, and look inwards. Perhaps for this reason, some internal destinations have begun advertising themselves to NZers as if they are international destinations, knowing that we are all having to refocus our travel aspirations for the rest of the year (at a minimum). Dunedin, for example, is one of our main cities, and sits in the south of the South Island. It is known for its Scottish heritage, beautiful surroundings, and university-town vibe. It has come up with a slogan, “Not a Bad Plan D.” Its tongue-in-cheek humour compares its hills with the pyramids, its beaches with Bali (“but with a wetsuit”) and its buildings with Edinburgh (“It’s not exactly Edinburgh, but it sort of is”). Another region only four hours north of Wellington is taking a similar stance. Hawke’s Bay, one of our largest wine regions, compares its offerings with wine regions around the world, including Sonoma (California), Barossa (South Australia) and Tuscany, and urges us all to take a Baycation. I like all these regions, but I have to say that my favourite parts of this country are uniquely New Zealand, and that’s what I love the most.

School holidays start in about a week, so we’re staying at home for most of July, both because Charlie and parents are coming to visit, and to avoid crowds. But in August or September, we intend hitting the road and enjoying our fabulous country. We can’t go away for too long at any one time, because of elderly parent care. But that is the joy of not having to fly across the world to our destination. We can come and go to different destinations much more easily here.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue going somewhere when I am actually going nowhere. There are lots of ways I can do this. As I write this, I have a video going beside me of one of the safari drives I’ve already talked about. And over the lockdown, I’ve taken some YouTube trips on some great rail journeys (courtesy of Mel’s blog here), and (also thanks to Mel and Google street view) have “walked” around one of my favourite towns in Italy reminiscing about my visit seven years ago. I haven’t visited the dozens of online museums yet, or got into planning future trips (as they feel a little too distant right now), but they are all options for me to travel when I’m going nowhere. Of course, visiting international blogs and talking to friends on social media exposes me to other countries and people and makes me still feel connected to the world. The wonderful aforementioned Mel also introduced me this morning to WindowSwap, and that makes me feel like I’m somewhere else. I can almost smell the flowers, and feel the heat from the northern windows. And I haven’t yet mentioned reminiscing. That’s always a good way to transport myself to other times and places, when I can remember the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of exotic destinations.

The great thing about travel is that it is all about opening your mind to possibilities and experiences. And that’s the way I’m going to travel during this pandemic – both domestically in person AND internationally, thanks to photos and technology. For the rest of the year, at least.

 

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I shared my post  about my AFS year a few weeks ago with those very students who were such an important part of my year, and remain an important part of my life. 33 of us are on a Fbk group, and we’re individually in touch with one or two others who don’t “do” Fbk. There are a few who continue to be elusive, having lost touch in the intervening years before the internet reunited so many of us.

As it was our 40-year anniversary, we had talked previously talked about whether there was a possibility of a reunion there. I’d been planning a trip, another person was waiting for a wedding date there before she could commit, but the likelihood of more than one or two of us getting together there was slim. I was sad about that, but resigned to it. It is 2020, after all, and there’s a global pandemic, so travel is pretty much impossible, and if not impossible, then it is definitely unadvisable. But then Sharon B had the brilliant idea to do what lots of people are doing during this pandemic.

“Let’s have an online reunion!” she suggested.

After a little organisation – mostly because the Kiwis complained about getting up at 3 am – we fixed a time. Cocktail hour for many of the Americans on  Friday night, and early afternoon for the Kiwis the next day worked perfectly. Those of us who had never used Zoom downloaded it. We tried to link in a few who weren’t part of the Fbk group too – at the last minute I realised Madeline wasn’t in the group, and linked her into it just in time.

At the appointed time, we logged on. It was fantastic, watching each person sign in to the meeting, seeing their face for maybe the first time in 39 years. Exclamations of delight, helloes, waves, and big grins all round. It took quite a while for everyone to get on, especially as many of us had learning curves. A few didn’t quite realise their discussions with the families would be heard (Jane putting in a crucial beer order, for example), but we all figured it out eventually. And at least we weren’t like the young woman I read about last week, who was on a Zoom meeting with her workplace, took her laptop into the bathroom, placed it on the floor, and sat on the toilet, before she realised they could all see her! We may almost be boomers, but we’re technologically capable, thank you very much.

Fifteen of us signed in, which is not a bad turnout given the circumstances. We had a great catch-up, finding out where people lived and what they’ve been doing the last 39 years, who had been back to Thailand, were still in touch with their Thai families, etc. Of course, we indulged in some reminiscing. Some of us drank tea or coffee or water, others enjoyed wine or cocktails, one fell asleep on the couch after a busy work week, Jen dialled in briefly from her car (when she wasn’t driving) in Australia, and right at the end, Cee cooked her dinner. Gradually people started signing off, all with commitments to do this again, sending love and safe wishes.

When it got down to the last six or so of us, it was a more manageable conversation, and my goodbyes when it got down to three of us were lengthy, as we chatted easily, and didn’t want to sign off, but after three hours, figured it was time.

Technology makes life so much easier, so much richer. Even in times that are hard, when people might feel isolated from others, when people were already feeling divided, technology allowed us to come together. I’m still smiling now as I think about it.

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