The joys — and snares — of instant global communication

September 17, 2017

   Jack Schnedler, this blog’s occasional peripatetic correspondent, is back with wife Marcia in Iceland this month. It’s their fourth visit in six years to these longtime globetrotters’ currently favorite foreign destination. Both retired in 2011 from editor’s jobs at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

At the Cow Shed restaurant near Lake Myvatn in Iceland, some diners have a view of bovines in their milking shed. (photo by Marcia Schnedler)

By Jack Schnedler
   In October 1982, a time long ago in the communications cosmos, I found myself in Iceland as my beloved St. Louis Cardinals were battling for baseball’s world championship.
   This was the first time in 14 years that the team I have fervently followed since the early 1950s had made it to the post-season. So I was eager — perhaps ratcheting toward desperate — to get news of how the best-four-of-seven series was unfolding.
   It was not the electronic Stone Age by any means back then. But Iceland was pretty much cut off from timely U.S. news.
   The mid-Atlantic island nation then had just a single television station, operated by the government. The station’s practices were quaint enough that it went off the air each Thursday so Icelanders would have to do something other than gaze at their TVs. In August, the station closed down for two weeks so staff members could enjoy a summer vacation.
   For an American traveling in Europe, merely 35 years ago, there were no satellite-transmitted news channels in that continent’s hotel rooms. The International Herald-Tribune and fledgling USA Today‘s overseas edition provided sketchy U.S. news — including baseball scores a day late.
   But neither of those newspapers was sold in Iceland. Voice of America did broadcast World Series games and other important sports events, but wife Marcia and I lacked a short-wave radio. As for the Internet and smart phones, they were still a few technological quantum leaps away.
   When we’d landed for a five-day stay in Iceland on our way back to Chicago from the European continent, the Cardinals and Brewers (then an American League team) each had won two games. That left me stranded in an information vacuum as the crucial remaining contests were being played back home.
   Finally, on the day after the deciding seventh game would have been played, I resorted to what was  a rather expensive last option in 1982. From our Reykjavik hotel room, I placed a long-distance phone call to Jean Adelsman, my immediate supervisor at the Chicago Sun-Times, where I was starting a blissful 12-year tenure as Travel editor.
   Jean had zero interest in baseball or other spectator sports. But she looked in that morning’s Sun-Times and gave me the happy news that the Cardinals had bested the Brewers in the series’ seventh game and were perched as world champions. Jubilation reigned in the Schnedlers’ hotel room. We’d have ordered a bottle of champagne, except for the fact that alcoholic beverages are appallingly expensive in Iceland.
   Leap ahead a mere third of a century, and I am writing this on the morning of Sept. 15 to send leaping across the Atlantic Ocean in the wink of an eye by clicking “send.”
   Marcia and i areat a country hotel near Lake Myvatn, an Icelandic tourist magnet because of its intense geothermal activity. (Think Yellowstone Park and multiple the burbling hot spots by a factor of, say, 100.)
  Comfortable Hotel Vogafoss is rustic enough that its proprietors also operate a dairy farm on the premises. Its top-notch restaurant — think lamb and the fish called Arctic char — is named the Cow Shed. Windows in one alcove of the dining room look into the adjacent milking barn, so that munching diners can watch their bovine neighbors chomping on hay.
   Still a devout Cardinals’ fan, I updated myself a half-hour ago on the progress of this year’s rather mediocre team. My Redbirds have somehow crept back into serious contention for post-season play (an easier achievement these days, when 10 of the 30 big-league teams get to advance that far).
   On other Internet fronts, Marcia and I have been keeping up with the devastation of Hurricane Irma on a daily basis (or hourly, if we so wished). We can’t yet get in touch with a longtime good friend who stayed in Key West to brave the storm, given that Internet and other communications on that Florida island are still on the blink.
   But otherwise, we have quick electronic access to the rest of the world that is pretty much the same as if we were lolling in our Little Rock apartment. Had I cared enough about the Razorbacks, I could have connected virtually play by play for their loss last Saturday.
   It’s a debatable question whether such instant inter-connectivity is a good thing or a bad thing. We’ve pondered that a few times in Iceland restaurants this month when observing couples at a nearby table, both tapping away at their smart phones as if they were in separate locations elsewhere on the planet.
   I still lack a smart phone, by choice, at age 74. And Marcia never takes hers out at meal time. But I will be checking the Web site espn.com on our laptop computer once or twice a day until we’re back home on Sept. 23.
   By then, the Cardinals could be in first place — or getting ready to pack their bags at the end of the regular season and slink away. Whatever the case, the mystery will be gone — for better or for worse.


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