As we live through these interesting times, technology keeps seeking higher levels for interpersonal, worldwide communication. The latest boost comes...

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As we live through these interesting times, technology keeps seeking higher levels for interpersonal, worldwide communication.

The latest boost comes from wireless, which gives you the ability to walk into a certain zone, open your laptop and log in to your messages. It may not be as portable as a PDA, but it’s a good way to access all your data and stay in touch from the more obscure corners of town.

I love this — how you can sit in a cafe or restaurant and connect to your mail or the Web. How you can board the ferry, and use the crossing time to fill in the blanks of your life. Many of these outlets are free, used to promote certain businesses. But in a lot of cases you can park outside a hotspot and log in while you are still in the car.

You can do this at a fire hydrant and be finished before the cops tell you to move on. And many of the businesses in question don’t really care. In fact, they’d prefer it to your coming inside, taking up a table for an hour and buying only a single drink.

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While this wireless revolution is a wonderful thing, I learned this week how our country has missed the bus in another way. Last week, I was visited by a cousin, Ann Tougart deBoismillon, 21, and her friend Cynthia Balli, 19, who spent two months touring America with a Greyhound bus pass. While they were ultimately enriched by this visit in a way they will remember all their lives, their dissatisfaction was clear. And I heard of it during the short visit from the downtown bus station to the Bainbridge Island ferry.

The United States is known as the country of communication, they said, and you would think it would be easier to stay in touch with parents.

Because they were traveling light, the girls had decided not to carry a laptop, assuming they would be able to find an Internet cafe at every turn. The U.S., after all, is the most modern country on the planet.

And if Switzerland and France have at least one such cafe per district, it seemed safe to assume they could find something in places such as Manhattan and Philadelphia.

Wrong. Both sets of parents were unable to keep in touch, as the girls were unable to log on economically in most American locales. After much searching they could find places for $12 an hour, and assigned Cynthia — who was the faster typist — to answer necessary correspondence before they were bankrupt.

You would think some rocket surgeon could install cheap pay terminals in a bus station, next to the pay TVs and the nut-bar machines. But that would be too easy.

In this respect, Seattle is atypical. There are quite a few access enclaves. And there are enough FedEx Kinkos around to make it easy enough to write home. But Kinkos, however convenient and economical, isn’t exactly a social center.

Clearly, the European-style Internet cafe — a large, brightly lit downtown room full of eager kids around the clock — has never caught on here. Over there, these are major social centers. And by now, quite a few parents have blessed their kids with middle names such as “Easy Internet Cafe” to celebrate where they met.

On Sunday, I dropped off Ann and Cynthia in downtown Vancouver, B.C., where they quickly found a log-in spot for the economical price of $4 an hour (Canadian, even!).

On their next trip here, they will know to bring a laptop. Until then, we have a whole generation of travelers whose parents must rely on communication the old-fashioned way, by postcard.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.