My 21st Century Pen Pal And I Use Skype To Chat--No Phones, Envelopes, Stamps, and Sealing Wax

When I was a fourth grade student in Southfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, we studied the country of Norway, in depth. To facilitate this, my teacher and school arranged for us to become acquainted with a similar fourth grade class in Norway. Each of us was assigned a student and we exchanged mailing addresses. We dutifully corresponded and asked many questions to learn more about our Norwegian peers. We became familiar with Norway by using the Encyclopedia Britannica and other traditional sources like library reference books.

Fast forward 40 years and I have a new pen-pal of sorts who lives in Singapore. We are similar yet different. When I was 10 years old, it was de rigueur not to have a variety of stationery sets, colors of sealing wax and cool-looking stamps. The Internet has facilitated immeasurable connectivity between people in any country around the world, and furthered just about everything that I can think of. It has spawned a barrier-free world of information for people to connect and collaborate at will, propelled largely by a desire among humans to share ideas, passions, goals and experience.

By outward appearance, you might wonder what an odd pen pal I have chosen: My Singaporean friend is an East Indian man, and I am a white, American female. But we are well matched--both 52 years old, with two children and careers in financial services that have led us to our common ground: a passion for understanding value props and educating the next generation of global wealth and the international financial services industry on what products, services and technology channels are essential to them.

It's fitting that we would meet on the information highway, the Internet, where we began by emailing each other, sharing reports, insights and questions. Naturally, our friendship progressed to LinkedIn and Twitter, and eventually to Skype where we have had some great late night chats (due to the almost 12-hour time difference.) I can't even imagine what my fourth-grade Norwegian pen pal would think about today, where waiting for a letter took what seemed to be eons.

The context here is how the Internet has made our world both very large and very small. There is much to learn and many people to meet, but it's now all accessible and immediate. This was made possible by the creation of the Internet--not any one social media, e-commerce, or any other type of website or platform. But very few people really understand what the Internet is or how it works.

Wikipedia calls the Internet "...a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless and optical networking technologies." This provides the underpinnings by which peer-to-peer, corporate, philanthropic and many other types of interactions possible.

The concept of the Internet is largely credited to Leonard Kleinrock, who outlined the structure in a paper he wrote entitled "Information Flow In Large Communication Nets" in 1961. Fast forward to 1990 when Tim Berns-Lee developed HTML, which is the mechanism by which we view and navigate the worldwide Web today. By the way, he also introduced the idea of "www" to the public in 1991.

So while Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may be well-known contributors to the wide acceptance of computers, they were mainly aligned with just one facet of this expansive medium--the microcomputer hardware/software space. There are so many people who have advanced the world we live in, and now, the rate at which change is occurring. Too bad, my sons haven't changed the world-yet!

My own children, ages 18 and 20, have grown up in the Internet world. If you do not know the answer about any question, for them it's as easy as "Googling" it. Searching for information no longer involves the public library, the Dewey Decimal System, Microfiche, and those massive volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica that I used in elementary grade. I am sure that these terms are unfamiliar to my kids. In fact, I was driving with my younger son on the interstate highway and we noted the signs with pictures of telephones (indicating pay phones) and even gas stations which will most certainly be replaced by electric charging stations soon. The everyday life depicted in the space age show, "The Jetsons" cannot be far away.

As this wired world we now live in is relatively new and changing quite rapidly, it is clear that we are in a period where there is still much "gray area" around how we will evolve, engage, disengage, and easily control the amount and type of information we share. Just as we can imagine a pile of old computer equipment and telephones that have dials and plugs, soon we will see Apple products, and every gadget that we think is "state of the art" in electronics today as obsolete. The one thing that we can count on in the technology world is change--you had better get used to it. Even embrace it. It's inevitable now. Jump aboard before that train passes you by...

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