Friday, March 7, 2008

Transcendental Travelers


I was taught how to e-mail by a Brazilian Mormon living in a pup tent in Florence, Italy. This was before we had to take off our shoes to get on an airplane, back when the Internet was just a nifty idea. It took me a while to trust that what I typed on the computer was actually out there somewhere in cyberspace.

The Brazilian man took an interest in my edification when I told him I had actually been to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. He was already bored with the Etruscans.

"You have been there?" he asked with great admiration. He had been devoutly researching his genealogy, as Mormons are inclined to do, in the Uffizi Library in Florence. He had traced his roots back to the Knights of Malta.

I looked around us at the extravagant beauty of that Renaissance city and wondered why on earth this fellow would care to know about Salt Lake. He later taught me to pick ripe peaches and apricots from courtyards by climbing stone walls and where to find the cheapest clay jugs of red wine, though he never partook himself.

Today I think of how most everything has found its way onto the Internet. The Uffizi, the Etruscans and probably my Brazilian friend have all found their apotheosis in the sudden phenomenon of instant, global presence. How can this not transform everything we know and do? Some people watch dirt-track racing during breaks at the office. Others listen to great speeches. Nobody can leave it alone. This week, a raid by Colombian soldiers across the border into Venezuela captured a rebel camp, which contained a laptop computer Colombian officials claim contains proof that the rebels were on the payroll of Hugo Chavez and had plans to build a dirty bomb.

This international news story about the deaths of 16 armed militants missed one important item: They carried a device that could have availed them of the latest soccer scores, the rules of the Geneva Conventions, family gossip or a current blockbuster from Netflix. Why were they wasting their time trying to kill someone in the jungle?

I think humanity is still waking up to the possibilities of the Internet. We are still finding one another. The world is unstable and dark forces are always at work, but I can't help thinking that the travel of information and ideas the World Wide Web provides will continue to satisfy our curiosities about one another and one day put an end to a great deal of suspicion. Perhaps wars will then be kept on the level of skirmishes in the jungle.

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