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Jerry Lanson Headshot

Around the World in 8 Minutes

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Eat your heart out, Mary Poppins. Move aside, Peter Pan. Around the World in 80 Days, you say? Try 8 minutes -- with close-up views of any building, tree, mountaintop or river bed you choose. All you need is your hand, Google Maps and a funky new motion sensor our department is beta testing.

Keyboard? Please. That's passé. Instead, let you fingers do the flying (balloons and fairy dust are no longer needed).

I confess. There are days, at age 64, when I start to feel like an old guy. I certainly know I'll never make it up Mt. Everest. And trying to keep up with the latest gadget long ago left me sitting on the sidelines.

Still, I've watched in awe from there as technology makes things smaller, cheaper, more portable and more nimble. Perhaps it's time to add easier. Now it appears virtual flying is in my future -- and I mean on this Earth. Mind you, our beta-test clearly is just the Model-T of this future, but the promise is clear.

If I'm right, please buckle me up -- and send me around the world. Even with occasional senior moments, I'm much smarter than those chimps NASA catapulted into space.

Just what does this new toy mean? Who knows. Our department is testing it for a company that for now must remain unnamed. Our instructions -- our mission -- is open-ended: Come up with applications for journalists.

I'll leave that to smarter people. In the meantime, please allow me to daydream. My mind is filled with applications for the aging wanderer. That would be me. I never did make it up the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Neither have I seen the great migrations of the Serengeti nor walked along the Great Wall of China. Now, I'm thinking, in a decade I may be able to experience all, not in an expensive IMAX theatre but from the confines of my own living room, with me at the controls, flying high and fast, or burrowing low and moving slow over some of the most fascinating places on Earth. And I'm thinking, what we're playing with today is just the start of what's to come.

We all know that satellite technology already can supply us with a picture of our own house so detailed that we can see every window, tree and bush. Now imagine flying around the world at the tilt of a hand. Let's play with this idea. Let's add sound effects -- the wind, indigenous birds, the shouts of street vendors in ... pick a language. Let's add smells (I've always found smell to be the most powerful of the senses.)? Give me weather.

Hollywood, of course, can do just about all of this today, in 3-D, no less. But what if we all could? At a reasonable cost? What if technology became as affordable as the smart \phones touted on every televised sporting event. What if?

That would be one hell of way to retire. Maybe life really will begin at 65?

Again, I can't tell you just who has given this gizmo to Emerson College's Department of Journalism. Nor do I know how fast or far it will develop. But it sure piques the imagination. So if you want flying lessons, stop by. They aren't yet on the college's official tour. But I'm working on that.

More later. I'm off to Istanbul. I should be back for dinner.

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