The New Electronic World for Expats

My perspective on the new electronic E-world derives from my love of science fiction and working with computers almost all of my life. I began reading science fiction at a young age starting with Tom Swift and still enjoy a good space opera with thousands of starships fighting each other or against all manner of space aliens. Many people are amazed with their new smart phones and IPads while I remain disappointed with our advances and especially how the new technology is being used. Everything we have and everything that will be invented in the next 50 years was predicted by science fiction stories written 50 to 75 years ago. There is a natural progression in everything. I thought by now we would be going to a Hilton Hotel on Mars and I could strap on my micro-nanite null gravity flight suit to fly to the supermarket. But no, I am still driving a gas-powered vehicle using the basic technology invented, though much improved, in the late 1800s.

My first computer was given to me by my grandparents around 1961. Once assembled, it could count in binary by simply moving a plastic plate back and forth. I thought that was so cool especially when you consider my grandparents still had an outhouse at the time. Talk about technology collisions. Upon high school graduation in 1967 I attended a technical school on computers then entered the military where I became the lead technician on a mobile missile system. Back in those days you could not be a computer person without a math or electronics background. Then I attended an intensive technical school specializing in computers using the old Univac computers before getting an undergraduate degree in office systems and a MBA in business. In the early years I specialized in computer communications then eventually business applications and finally senior management.

The world was made much easier for expats and tourists when ATMs appeared around the world and your plastic ID allowed you access to your money regardless of where you are. The Internet’s email and web presence made it easy to stay in contact with friends, family and business associates. A far cry from carrying traveler’s checks or a letter of credit from your domestic bank. If you mailed a letter you may return home before the letter was delivered. Truly major changes for people living or traveling overseas.

Everything is now going digital and electronic. Nobody likes books more than me and in fact, we had over 5,000 books while living in the states. It was so easy. You bought a book and it was yours to re-read or loan to a friend. We now have several E-book readers and you cannot deny the convenience. Order a book from Amazon and it magically appears on your IPad or Kindle in Nicaragua in a few seconds. This became more significant a couple years ago when Customs started blocking all shipments that were not from family and friends and demanding custom taxes. Unfortunately, you do not own an e-book and usually it cannot be shared. If and when Amazon or Barnes & Noble goes out of business, you will lose all of your e-books unless another company buys them and agrees to continue storing them for you. Welcome to the disposable world!

I fought the transition to e-books as much as anyone. Holding a book in your hands or browsing through titles in your library made you feel good since there was a physical presence. You will rarely re-read an e-book. Still, it is a lot easier carrying a 100 books on your Kindle for your next trip. I remember when I used to take smaller books to read on a trip just because they were easier to pack. Now my IPad holds more than 3,500 books. For an expat in Nicaragua, the e-books are a blessing.

Our foundation, Puedo Leer, maintains several libraries. It is not that far in the future when hardcopy books will be difficult to get and books are expensive here and almost as difficult to ship here assuming someone would pay the postage. Soon, we will have to consider buying e-readers for the children to use in the library or use computers to access e-libraries. But there will be advantages especially since the schools here have so few books: text and reading books. Just think, we will easily be able to put the 12 years of text books and reference materials and access to the Internet on an e-reader and finally the Nicaraguan children will have all of the books they will need at probably a much lower price.

Digital still and video cameras are really e-cameras. Remember taking photos or videos then waiting a few days for the photo processing place to develop them for you? Remember watching endless slide shows of friends that just got back from their trip to Paris? Remember carefully taking the picture then moving the f-stop up or down a notch to get the perfect picture or adjusting the shutter speed. Recently, I read an article that stated that more pictures are taken now by IPads and IPhones than all cameras combined. There is still a need for professional photographers but their product is not that much better than an amateur’s now. And how do we do it? Well, it costs nothing so we take a thousand photos and delete 90% of them. In addition, anyone can easily crop, enhance, resize and a dozen other image enhancements can be made. But, being digital we can easily email them to friends and family or paste them to FaceBook or combine in a video show with musical background. Definitely a big plus for expats but I do miss the big old clunky 35 mm camera at times.

Many of us now have e-friends or e-friends of e-friends that we only know through FaceBook, Google or some other e-service. I’m beginning to believe that these e-services have done more harm than good. People have forgotten how to write clearly since all of their messages are just a few sentences long and even then must use shortcuts. LOL! The biggest problem is we must see all of their messages since they are broadcast to the world and I really don’t care what the writer feels about their mother, gun control nor do I want to look at the millions of pictures of cute dogs and cats. I have a few rules such as unfriending anyone that puts 10 pictures out a day or continually advertises their business to me or pushes their religion. Some expats live on FaceBook so I guess we must consider e-friends as a boon for expats.

My last bad habit is smoking but don’t worry, e-cigarettes are now available and I’m trying to switch to them. I feel stupid sucking on a plastic cigarette but it gets rid of the smoke, the smell and the dirty looks from my friends. Only inferior, insensitive and selfish people smoke now or so I am told and we used to be so cool in high school. Would you believe there is a tiny circuit board (computer) in the electronic cigarettes? I remember when I could hardly afford the new HP electronic calculator (around $200) and now I have a computer in my cigarette. Strange world we live in when cigarettes are very uncool yet cigars are more popular than ever. Science fiction even predicted the e-cigarettes decades ago. So e-cigarettes will become very helpful to expats.

And don’t forget e-colleges. You can get a degree from many of the e-universities that now exist with just access to the Internet. Really great for expats still wanting to learn. Many of the lectures from fine institutions like Harvard and Yale are also available for free.

So welcome to the e-world and especially to all you expats out there. Now we need wait only for e-wives and e-husbands which I’m sure will be along soon because I read a science fiction story about it once.

Darrell

One Comment

  1. Brian

    September 8, 2013 at 12:53 am

    I came to Nicaragua for three months earlier this year for the first time since the 1980s and like many others plan to make it my home. The only thing i missed were my books. I did bring a stack of Atlantic Monthlys and Harper’s that had built up in my house and read each at least 5 times. I now have an iPad mini and a large selection of ebook to read when I return.

    Tech is the single biggest difference from when I lived in Costa Rica 30 years ago and it seems much for the better. Unlike when my town in C.R. got electricity and everyone huddled around the TV instead of walking around visiting in the evenings – which is why I sold my house and moved – cell phones and to a lesser extent internet have become an integral part of local life with few of the drawbacks.

    Your mention of e-readers for schools is a wonderful idea and and I’m sure they could be cheaply made using the same goals as One Laptop Per Child. Unfortunately nothing can take the place of large illustrated childrens books to show them the joys of reading which make a 7 inch grayscale screen appear, well, pale in comparison.

    My dream for the future includes e-ating and e-xercise so I can simply read my way to good health.