The concept was cutting edge in 1996. Please visit, but keep in mind the site was built as we traveled using Microsoft’s Front Page and that we have left it vintage for historical and sentimental reasons. It was a dream come true.
That dream in 1996 evolved into the project we called Blondins’ Assignment America. On September 30, 1996, we left our home in Boyne City, Michigan. What might be the world’s largest field trip and hands-on learning experience began in Cleveland, Ohio, with science, rock and roll, and natural history. It progressed to marine life in Maine, the story of independence and immigration in New England, and national history and heroics in Philadelphia. It then intensified during our two-week stay in Washington, D.C. during an election cycle, and never slowed as we headed south to Florida and then West. To give you an idea how ambitious we were, here is a list of places we visited in just the first month and here is an article about our first 10 weeks.
At that time high-speed Internet was rare. Google did not exist. Yahoo, Netscape and AltaVista were early players but wireless was still a dream, so we connected wherever we could for email and uploading web pages using dial-up. Dial-up, you say? We would walk into 7/11s, Laundromats, local businesses, libraries, and even museums with local access numbers (you might have to Google that one), our laptop and a 50-foot phone cord. Strangely enough, after telling our story about school via the Internet, most people agreed to share their phone line. It was always a challenge but we met fascinating people in the process.
Familes, Technology and Education
We received a fair amount of press at the time, which led to a U.S. Department of Education invitation to be featured speakers at a conference called “Families, Technology and Education.” Our paper was called, “People Make Dreams Come True, and Technology Expands the Possibilities: An Educational Journey across the United States.“ Pretty cool — and still relevant.
While the 90s may seem like the middle ages technologically, our Power Point presentation played well to a crowd of 400-500 educators from around the country. It included a pretty sophisticated video on animal and plant life our children produced in Big Bend National Park.
Then and Now
Fast forward 20 years. We have accessed the Internet in some remote areas of the world with just a wi-fi code — and the ability to ask for it in a foreign language.
Travel sometimes feels too easy now. There was very little infrastructure in place in 1996 so when we landed in a new place, the local visitors center was our go-to source for information. Now we maneuver at will using a phone.
The past 20 years have propelled us from dial-up to ubiquitous wireless, from folding maps to GPS-guided navigation, and from limited cell access to smart phones more powerful than the laptop we used. Then, we used a 1.2 MP Kodak camera; now, we take high-resolution images on phones. It’s brilliant.
Today we are still using current technology to live an untethered lifestyle, but we know firsthand what a wild trip technology has taken in 20 years. We felt like pioneers in 1996 and now the planet hosts millions of travelers instantly documenting their adventures to the world. The variations of our story are endless – and now, like then, technology can make dreams come true.