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August 12, 2008
Time was, when you left your home country, you just expected to be out of touch for a while. The singer Harry Chapin died when we were in the Caribbean; it was not newsworthy there, and so it was a few years before I learned of it by hearing him referred to on the radio as "the late Harry Chapin." What do they mean, "late?" I asked the person I was with. Harry Chapin died? When did that happen? We were in England when we heard on the news of a "well-known American athlete" being sought for the murder of two people; it was two weeks before we learned that it was O.J. Simpson. We were in France when Iraq invaded Kuwait: we overheard a man on a bus mispronouncing it. Kivit?!? What do we care what happens in Kivit? he demanded of his wife. What, indeed.

My laptop computer and wireless connection have changed all that. Here I am in Italy, listening to my New York radio station online. I know about the subway delays before the people who have to ride them do. I didn't miss Garrison Keillor on Saturday, and Q can catch Gwen Ifill, known in our family as "Q's other girlfriend," on an NPR podcast of "Washington Week in Review" whenever he gets around to it. We can read the Times whenever we want to. I can do our banking online, just as I do from my office at home. If my daughter wonders whether a certain piece of mail is worth forwarding, she can IM me and I'll tell her. I can send out the eMos, just as I always do. All that, and we haven't even turned on the television set yet.

Some people think we're too connected, that we all ought to take sabbaths from our instant communications. Maybe. But I would have a hard time doing that, as I enjoy it all so much. I love my home and my people, and I want to hold them as close to me as I can while we are apart. Knowing we could be in touch so easily made it much easier to say good-bye.
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