Sunday, January 24, 2010

Would Hemingway Have Emailed?

Nowadays, with emailing, text messaging, IMs, blackberries, cellphones, Twitter, Facebook, and every other possibly imagined form of electronic communications, it is harder to think of what life was like back when instant communication was impossible. I was reminded recently while re-reading Hemingway, of a visit to a favorite haunt of his in Kenya while then spending my days crazily photographing every animal in sight. Back then, communication could take days or even weeks in a third world country.

Stopping by the The Thorn Tree Cafe at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, you can't help but notice the large bulletin board with paper posted messages left by those passing through. Nairobi is still one of the pitstops for those seeking African adventures. The board surrounds a centuries old acacia at the center of the outdoor cafe. Back in its heyday, travellers passing through on safari would tack messages on the board at the cafe for others and those in turn would retrieve those messages and post their replies. It was sort of a precursor to today's electronic bulletin boards but at a pace that would certainly seem prehistoric by today's standards.

So while messages are still left their today by would-be travellers, it is more of an anachronism of another time and place. A small reminder of the way things used to be. I had to then wonder, would Hemingway email? Would he care or even be bothered with the multiple ways people write and communicate these days?

Yet even when I was there, it was easy to relax, sitting there with a drink while Nairobi bustled, and look through the posted messages on the board and imagine Hemingway sitting at the bar with a drink in one hand, and a pen in the other, checking his messages. Only today, he'd be balancing his drink over his laptop, a blackberry in one hand and a cellphone in the other as his agent instant messaged him from New York while he sent out tweets of his whereabouts to his followers on Twitter. You know, on second thought, maybe somethings should be left as they were.

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