Allow me to make some disjointed and rambling comments on how our world is shrinking. Our global interconnectedness is truly miraculous and far exceeds the wildest dreams of my childhood. In the era of sailing ships intercontinental messages would take weeks to be delivered. In my childhood, overseas telephone calls were all but nonexistent. Now my wife does frequent and instantaneous communications with her South African cousins or to our friends in Australia. The phenomenon is so commonplace that we have become jaded and cease to think of it as extraordinary. Tragically our connectedness often fails to foster true relationships.
Paralleling our ability to communicate electronically is the ability to rapidly access remote corners of our globe. During my rural childhood it was rare for anyone to venture long distances from their homes. Little did I dream that as an adult I would have the good fortune to visit all of the continents on earth (including Antarctica). During such junkets we have unexpectedly run into people we knew from California on the sidewalks of Rome, the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro and at events of the Olympic games. The most rare encounter occurred in Africa. Through the good graces of our friend Bill we were guests at the Leaky research facilities on Lake Turkana. Tourists were prohibited from visiting this area so as not to disturb the excavations of prehominid fossils. Here the desert terrain suffers an arid bareness reminiscent of the face of the moon. My daughter continued to carp about the heat and dust and questioned the sanity of anyone who would want to work here. Arriving at the site she looked down on a young man who was busily excavating. A moment transpired during which my daughter could have been saying, “Dr. Livingstone I presume”. She actually addressed the youth by his given name. He in turn looked up with surprise and simply said, “Hi Victoria”. As old college friends they renewed their acquaintance in one of the most remote and desolate sites on the earth.
Modern communications and modern travel are significant blessings of our era. The opportunity of observing different peoples and cultures expands our vistas and might even be transformational. For me our shrinking world recalls a biblical verse, “If you take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, there will I be with you.” The verse seems to indicate that although we are able change our geographic location we cannot escape our roots or cultural identity. No matter where we are our values and conscience always tag along. We observe exotic peoples through the eyes of an American. This does not detract from enjoying the experience. I treasure memories of sharing a hut with cannibals on the Sepic river or encountering Tibetans who had never seen a Caucasian person. Yet, whenever I return from visiting the third world I want to bow down and kiss the American soil.