Just last week, I was back in Oxford for the first time since June, and the experience was heavily laden with ghosts of the past. I entered the Bodleian and requested books with my old barcode and password. They were brought up by the same librarians. I read them in the same seat (number 208 in the upper reading room) that I frequented all of last spring. I drank G&Ds coffee. I ate in the Covered Market. And all the while it rained.
Oxford, it appears, is slow to change. That timelessness was one of the strongest impressions I took home with me about Britain . I wrote often last year about the contrast between the sense of constancy I experienced abroad and the obsession with change I associated with my home in the U.S. That Oxford in January 2008 looks much like Oxford in June 2007 was no big shock.
What got to me this time were my encounters with friends I hadn’t seen in months. I’m generally diligent about keeping in touch and, thanks to e-mail and Facebook, I was fully up to date on all the gossip basics of break-ups and new couplings. As a writer obsessed with new media, I’d assumed the physical separation and reunion would make minimal difference.
How wrong I was. Simple and sappy as it may seem, I was floored by the depth and force of emotion I felt seeing people face to face, hearing voices live and standing in physical spaces of college quads. It was a sharp reminder of the things that—at least for me—technology can’t yet replace. So I’m curious: do you, my fellow Gen Y, Web 2.0 readers, see limits in the things that can successfully be made virtual?