Having spent time in Australia on both my sabbatical trips, in 1998 and 2007, I was reflecting today on the differences between the experiences that have resulted from technology.
Certainly the Web and e-mail had become common by '98, but my access to them while abroad was pretty rare. Basically, I was dependent on Internet cafés to touch base with folks at home and catch up with sports scores and such back at school. I was able to connect perhaps twice a week, if lucky. This time around I am traveling with my laptop and have been able to get in-room broadband access at each of my hotels thus far.
Communications programs like Skype and iChat have made it practically free to stay in touch with people back in the States in real time conversations. This was unheard of nine years ago.
I've been able to entertain myself on this trip, both with with my portable DVD player and with television shows I downloaded to my iBook from my DVR before I left home. Even better, I've been able to keep up with recent shows that have aired while I've been abroad, such as episodes of The Office and 30 Rock, by downloading them via the iTunes Music Store. I am looking foward to staying up-to-date with 24 and Battlestar Galactica and Heroes and Lost when they resume new episodes, too. And I admit one of the benefits of being out from under the firewall of an academic community is unimpeded access to BitTorrent sites and other file sharing networks to get media.
Also, the iPod phenomenon has changed my interaction with my environment. I am able to wander city streets or cruise through stores to the beat of my own private soundtrack. I try not to use the iPod too much in this manner so I don't miss out on the local soundscape, but there are times it's nice to retreat into a familiar, comfortable song in a strange place.