Travelling in a connected world
Technology today vs. yesteryear
Technology has a way of aging you. Do you remember rotary phones, vinyl players, tube TVs, the walkman, and dial-up modems? I certainly do! I don’t remember the Gramophone, the Victrola, 8mm video or the Commodore 64 though. You can surmise my age range from this information alone!
It feels like consumer technology is evolving at an even faster pace than years past. New devices are coming out left, right and centre and we are evolving into a species of phone zombies, where our eyes are watery, our spines are rounded, our heads are down and one arm is permanently at a 45 degree angle with a claw of a hand.
What amazes me is how much travelling has changed due to this constantly evolving technology in just a decade. On my first trip, digital cameras were fairly new, internet access was not ubiquitous and smartphones did not exist. I had to go to an internet cafe to send emails and to burn my photos onto a CD which I mailed through the post. I didn’t carry a mobile phone with me. Paper maps were distributed at each city’s tourist bureau. Postcards were diligently written and mailed over. Hostels were booked at an internet cafe or by calling. Taxis were hailed by hand.
Now, internet access is at every cafe accessible through your phone, offline maps can be downloaded and GPS can be used to ascertain your exact location in the world. Photos are uploaded to Dropbox, Amazon Prime or Google Drive. Instead of postcards, you can post an impersonal pic on Instagram to let people know where you are. AirBnB is a preferred method of lodging now and Ubers are used to go from point A to point B.
Love-hate Relationship with Tech
A lot of this is great and has made travelling easier. But lately, I have become wary of the impact of being in such an over-connected world. Now, I’m no neo-luddite – I loved computers growing up, work in technology and appreciate many aspects of it – but I also see how detrimental it has become to our minds and social functioning. I certainly feel like it’s become more of a negative impact than a positive one on my life. This may be because I have recently realized that I am addicted to my phone even though I tried very, very hard to not be.
You see, I got a smartphone fairly late in life compared to most people, and it would always annoy me when friends were always on their phones. Or when friends were constantly updating Facebook, Twitter or whatever social networks they were a part of. I felt social media could be impersonal, obnoxious and a platform for inane chatter. I also hated the idea of checking my email for work all the time and set boundaries on after-hours usage.
However, something changed in the last 3 years, perhaps 1 year after getting my first smartphone. I think it started with checking my work email at a fun but somewhat all-encompassing job. And so now I frequently check my work email. I still don’t update Facebook, but I do update Instagram and I read Twitter. I largely avoid my phone with friends but it’s always easily accessible and frequently used to look something up. I record my bike rides and runs on Strava. I set reminders and tasks on Wunderlist. I write notes on my phone. I chat with friends via text, WhatAapp or FB. I read articles on Pocket. I listen to music on Spotify and podcasts on iTunes.
What I’m saying is the device has permeated every aspect of my life: it’s no longer just a phone, it’s a tool for my social life, my fitness and health, my entertainment, my work and my productivity….And while in theory great, it has become too much!
I’m tired of texting. The occasional, utilitarian text is great. “What time shall we meet?”, “Do you want me to buy you mangoes?” but long drawn out conversations on text make me feel like I owe something and constantly linger in the back of my mind.
I’m tired of reading Twitter. The sheer amount of information is overwhelming and I have to remind myself that while an article might be interesting, it’s not worth investing time in due to the opportunity cost. Yeah, climbing in Croatia sounds fun, but it’s not in my near future plans, so why do I need to read about it now?
I’m tired of the internet being the swamp of the lowest of the low. The negativity, passive aggressiveness and just aggressiveness you see in comments and tweets can make you really lose faith in humanity.
I’m tired of typing on the phone and my computer. My hands and wrists hurt all the time from having to use these contraptions for hours a day.
I’m tired of the constant barrage of emails. Why do I need an email from the Bay everyday? I’m unsubscribing from lists all the time, and most of them are ones I didn’t even sign up for. Communication has become too easy and now there is so much more unnecessary noise. Perfunctorily written emails abound and the all-too-overabused Reply All emails that are oh-so- annoying.
So despite being tired of this, why can’t I stop completely? A few reasons I can think of:
- It’s social suicide to not have a smartphone. Social media, text and group messages are where events and meetings are coordinates. Some people have done it, but I think too many of my friends use the medium to cut it out.
- Apps and the internet have been made to be as addictive as possible. I listened to a recent Fresh Air podcast called “Irresistible’ By Design: It’s No Accident You Can’t Stop Looking At The Screen” which discussed the addictive qualities of tech these days. They are gamed to be addictive and now humans have an attention span which is less than that of a goldfish, pick up their phones 300x per day and waste 3-5 hrs looking at their stupid phones!
- Emails, texts and likes give you a hit of dopamine which gives you pleasure and therefore makes you seek it more.
These are some of the benefits I see from the phone for travelling:
- Phone maps are easier then paper ones
- Being able to look something up in a pinch
- Compact way of carrying notes and everything
On my trip, I will be digital detoxing as much as I can. I have done this on many trips and I generally find I read a lot more when I’m travelling as a consequence. But I hope to do this on a grander scale on this trip. My hopes are:
- Write more in my journal/diary
- Read more books (on my e-reader)
- Have a break from text obligation. Beyond telling family I’m safe, what else do I need to do?
- Use more paper maps and notes
Technology I’m Taking
This is what I’m allowing myself to take:
- Fuji X100t and accessories
- iPhone SE
- Kobo Mini eReader ( Allowing instead of books since I now have chronic shoulder problems from carrying a ton of books on my Asia-Pacific trip.)
- Old unlocked mobile phone
These are my rules:
- Podcasts, music, tv shows and audiobooks are permissible on buses, trains and airplanes. I cannot read on buses due to motion sickness and will most likely want the entertainment since there will be some very long bus rides. No headphones anywhere else; I want to soak in sounds of each place I visit.
- No mobile data usage. The phone will be for above entertainment, phone emergencies, maps and messages to tell my family I’m safe.
- Internet usage to backup photos only
- No internet, social media or email for at least the Madagascar portion of the trip and Reunion if possible. France will be ok, but limited.
I get the irony of writing this on the internet.
Challenge is on. I will be a healthier me.