How quickly we forget the technological limitations we once took for granted within our lifetime. How quickly we have come to expect the ubiquitous and dizzying communications network that allows us all to follow global events in real time. This week I watched on Twitter the unfolding of a demonstration in the streets of Minneapolis. Moment by moment, the story unfolded at my desk. I had access to video, photos, personal accounts within milli-seconds of their posting. Few of us know the complex infrastructure that makes this instant network possible - how many satellites it takes to spread those images throughout the world, but we assume now that the capability will always be there, woven into the fabric of our lives.
Will Steger and I spent yesterday afternoon pouring over old documents from the International Trans-Antarctica Expedition, telling stories and shaking our heads over how very unconnected we were exactly 25 years ago today - Will pushing hard to get to the South Pole before winter set in, me back in the office weighing decisions that would make or break his ability to go, as planned, another 1,000-some miles across the continent. One available satellite crossed over Antarctica in 1989 - for two small hours of the day - allowing the team to send us 36 characters of text to tell us how and where they were. No more, no less. No GPS, they used sextant and sun reckoning to find their way. Now, from the same area, I can watch a live weather cam and get cheery tweets from scientists twenty-four hours a day.
The diagram we found among the papers yesterday is the audacious plan for the first live international broadcast from Antarctica using a transmission station we set up at the Soviet Base of Mirnyy on the Indian Ocean. To get the signal from this isolated spot to all the participating countries required a dazzling relay of video and voice on separate paths through the Soviet Union and France. It took months to prepare. Nobody thought we could do it.
How far we've come, all of us. The instant connection we now enjoy from every corner of earth and space (including Antarctica) could, of course, trivialize the true distances in miles and culture that still exist. But it has the power, too, to bring us closer together as witnesses to our world. Today, at least, I remember not to take it for granted.