Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

*logoCarnival Cruise Lines will introduce the cruise industry’s first onboard social network on the 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream when the ship debuts on Sept. 21.

The move is the latest in the amazingly rapid ascent of cruise-ship technology. It’s hard to believe that only three years ago that Carnival was promising cell phone service at sea.

These days while on a cruise, my BlackBerry delivers all my email, and I have wireless Internet connection on my laptop in most public areas on the ships.

Is it any coincidence that quiet areas like Princess’ Sanctuary became so popular at the same time that cell phone use was becoming a normal cruise activity?

Carnival’s 36 "FunHubs" on the Dream will take that connectivity a step further.

Passengers will not only be able to get online, but also link into what Carnival is calling the industry's first onboard social network.

It is basically the line’s own version of Facebook, enabling passengers to create personal profiles that other cruisers can peruse and connect with. Fellow cruisers can send and receive private messages a la Facebook, set up meetings and invite them to participate in onboard events.

Can it be that even on a cruise we need an electronic portal to set up meetings or dates? Will this mean that cruisers are spending more time checking their onboard FunHub messages than checking out comedians and theater productions, climbing walls and sliding down water slides?

Perhaps social networking-at-sea is the inevitable and logical next step in this generation’s hyperconnectivity. A New York Times series highlighting the danger of using a cell phone while driving noted that rather than seek to curtail the practice, car companies are developing ways to enable drivers to check email while driving, by using voice commands.

Of course, there is nothing dangerous about talking on a phone while cruising. What echoes is our inability (and I am as guilty as the next person) to put down our cell phones and BlackBerries and abstain from email and Facebook, even during a vacation that is supposed to get us away from it all.

As the cruise lines know, we are increasingly taking it all with us.

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