If I needed any reminders that the world has changed, I could have found them in my luggage for Vancouver.
For my early travels, I used to pack exactly two electrical devices: a hair dryer and a travel iron, along with a boxed set of adapters. First the iron fell by the wayside as I learned to pack wrinkle-resistant clothes and realized that few people would care, or even notice, if I looked a bit rumpled. The hair dryer followed when hotels started supplying them. On my 10-week trip in 1985 to China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti, I brought back 17 articles for The Boston Globe – all from a few reporter’s notebooks.
Then I started carrying a Grundig mini-radio in my purse for long bus rides (it came in handy on 9/11), later supplanted by an iPod Nano that let me carry my own music. When I started teaching abroad, I needed my laptop. On a three-month trip to Eastern Europe in 2008, it served first as a teaching tool and later as a traveling companion; at an open-air wifi café in Split, Croatia, I would answer e-mail over early-morning tea and, at the end of the day, edit my photos over a glass of wine. In China the laptop became my workspace, entertainment center and lifeline to the world. “My whole life is on that laptop,” I told friends, and two years later, that hasn’t changed.
To Vancouver, I brought no fewer than five electronic communications devices: the laptop; a Nook for bedtime reading; a brand new iPad, a Christmas/birthday present from my friend Heidi; her hand-me-down iPod Touch (code-named Alvin for our late friend whose picture she used as its wallpaper), which has replaced the Nano in my purse; and the international cellphone I carry but rarely remember to turn on. Make that six: at the last minute, I popped my little digital recorder into the bag, in case I need to do interviews. There are at least four separate chargers, carried in the “electricals” box (a souvenir from China, decorated with a frog or lizard motif) along with three flash drives, two extra sets of earbuds and a spare USB cord. The electricals box can go into checked luggage, but everything else is carry-on, for which I now have a small wheeled office bag.
So much for traveling light.
The keyword here is “communications.” As a visiting professor in the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, I am back in the business in earnest, and these days, communication means mobile. When I first walked into my classroom, I found several long rows of work tables, empty except for pop-up electrical outlets. The notebooks students bring to class are mostly electronic, not paper. When I was their age (oh, to think of those words coming out of my mouth!), a journalism classroom was equipped with clackety manual typewriters, bolted to the desks. Here there’s a desktop Apple for the teacher, wired to projector and sound. My iPad is still too precious to carry around, but whenever I feel the need to look cool, I can whip Alvin out of my purse and peer intently at the little screen. Sometimes it even connects.
UBC’s program is entirely multiplatform, which means that no one majors in print or broadcast or online journalism; everyone learns to do everything. If that sounds a little scary to an old-lady print journalist, she need only read one course description for reassurance:
Integrated Journalism (iJournalism) is our core journalism course, designed to familiarize students with the grammar and syntax of media across platforms, including text, audio and video. It provides hands-on experience in a simulated multimedia environment. Emphasis is placed on accuracy, meeting deadlines, and learning the elements of journalistic style.
Grammar and syntax. Accuracy, deadlines, the elements of style. Even if the school’s “newspaper,” TheThunderbird.ca, is a website billed as a “news service,” it sure sounds like journalism to me.
It occurred to me that in my first two visits to the school’s state-of-the art Sing Tao Building, I hadn’t seen any newspapers. “Does this journalism school get any actual newspapers?” I asked Barry Warne, who runs the front desk. (Every organization has one person who can answer any question, solve any problem, supply any need. In this school, it is Barry.) “No,” he admitted, “we used to subscribe, but I was the only one reading them. So we canceled. Everybody reads it online.”
A platform is just a platform; what counts is what goes on it. So, like everybody else, I’m reading The Vancouver Sun and The Globe and Mail online. (The Georgia Straight, the local equivalent of The Village Voice or The Boston Phoenix, does arrive at the school in print.) Once again I’m also reading my hometown paper, The New York Times, online after nearly a year of rediscovering the print edition (Scrolling back, April 9, 2011). I’ve had to revert to one old habit: appointment television. For seven Sunday nights, I’ll be home by 9 to watch “Downton Abbey”; the wonderful apartment I’ve rented has no DVR cable box, and PBS won’t let me watch online in Canada. No matter. I’ve enjoyed that Sunday-night date for more than 40 years.
Steps away from all the modernity are UBC’s Museum of Anthropology and its spectacular grounds. There, in the cold, fresh midday air, I strolled through a totem-pole gate to gaze across a pond north toward Burrard Inlet and the mountains beyond. In this oasis of peace and timelessness, out of wifi’s reach and without a newspaper in sight, I began to understand what British Columbia is all about.