On the internet & experiences, apples and dragon fruit

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It has occurred to me that the internet is, perhaps, the single greatest boon to the traveling world and, simultaneously, the biggest detriment. 

On the one hand, the ability to keep in touch with the people who matter and are left behind, the ability to quickly search destination focused information, the ease of book tickets: plane, train, event or movie in just about any country in the world have made the travel experience so much “easier.” Travelers no longer need to feel like they are “alone” in the world or their experience. Blogs and online communities provide a thriving pool of fellow adventurers who “get it” and who are eager encouragers and a wealth of information for the newbie traveler who is nervously taking his first steps in the great big world. The old standard guidebooks are giving way to first hand, up to the minute information available online with a quick search that delivers a double handful of blogs by likeminded folks who’ve been where you want to go within the last month and are happy to share their favourites as well as their list of “don’t be bothered” for anywhere you want to go. It’s great, right?

Except when it’s not. The thing is, I don’t think most people even realize that it’s not. We’re all so irrevocably “plugged in” that we don’t even realize what we’re missing, but I promise you, we’re missing. Gone is the joy of authentically discovering something new without the pre-read experience of six other bloggers to frame your thought process on what you’re seeing. Gone is the need to hit the ground running and struggle through without “help.” Gone is the quiet within your own mind that comes from being alone in your own soul, without the tether to “everyone and everything.” Gone is the slow blossoming of deep thought and self discovery that comes with that quiet, and that intentional void. Our experiences are constantly compared and measured by those of others, so easily available online. We read our favourite blogs with longing, wishing our lives could be as cool and full of adventure as theirs, without realizing that they are also reading someone else’s blogs, comparing in some other way. The internet has become the ultimate tool for idolizing and one-upping one another in an endless comparison of “experiences.” Only what we’re doing is comparing our weaknesses (which we know all too well from the inside out) to someone else’s strengths (or our perception of them.)

Experiences can’t be compared. It’s like apples to dragon fruit.

It seems hypocritical for someone like me, a blogger, a writer, someone dependent on the internet and the online travel industry to even say such things out loud. I know. Part of me apologizes. But part of me also begs you to unplug, stop reading blogs, quit booking tickets and “experiences” online months in advance and lining out your itinerary like pool balls expertly aimed at velvet pockets. Part of me begs you to step into the void, with faith in the world and trust in your own ability and just go it alone in your own mind for a while. Take a book for company, and a journal to write in. Travel with someone you love or would like to know better. Leave the clamour of the online voices out of it. Those things that are “gone” as a result of our endless connectivity aren’t really gone. They’ve just been beaten out by the incessant beating of other peoples’ drums. You’ll find yourself, your own authentic thought process and experience right where you left them, patiently awaiting your return. I would go so far as to argue that until you’ve found a way to cut that cord and be in one world at a time, you haven’t yet seen the world, really seen it, through your own eyes.

What do you think? What are your experiences? Does the proliferation of travel material and tools online help, or hinder the experience of travel? Have you ever truly unplugged? What happened?

Posted by | Comments (8)  | June 4, 2013
Category: Travel Tech

8 Responses to “On the internet & experiences, apples and dragon fruit”

  1. Mohamed Mansour Says:

    One huge detriment comes before we even start traveling. I’ve wasted so many days pre-planning not only places to visit, but pre-planning how I’m supposed to feel once I arrive at those places I visit based on reviews. And the worst (actually, the best) part of it is that once I start traveling, I end up not relying on half the research I put into the trip anyway.

  2. frisko Says:

    I think pre planning is extremely important and don’t really like this wing it attitude. Before I went to India in 1980, I read and took notes on everything possible and was very prepared to understand a very complicated destination. Quite a few other travelers followed me around since I seemed to know where I was going and what was best to see in the country. I continue to do the same. Prepare for your journey, don’t be a mindless vagabond.

  3. Doug Says:

    I guess there is a certain irony of someone like you that is blogging about your journeys writing a post like this telling people not to read about other people’s journeys, but maybe it takes someone with your experiences to articulate it so well. I do think the daily “noise” of the Internet takes away from our daily lives in ways that are detrimental to us whether we are traveling or sitting on our couch at home. And I think you can definitely get over saturated with information about a particular place when researching and all the information you read may not be good information.

    I do agree with the commenter that preplanning is essential and I plan much like he does. However, whatever I think I know, I have never found that to spoil the sense of discovery when I landed because all the research online does not replace actually being there. The preplanning research just helps me feel grounded and safer in an unfamiliar place.

    I think I identify more with the plugged in portion of your post and find that when I am traveling the constant connection with email and social media are more of a drag on the experience more than anything else because when you are constantly connected you are distracted from the new experience in front of you. I think that is where I would say people need to unplug. Then you have something to tell people in person when you get back home. I know, a quaint notion.

  4. Jennifer Miller Says:

    Doug… I’m laughing… the irony isn’t lost on me. I know. Hehe. I think what you are pointing out is exactly the right balance, and what the essence of my encouragement is in this piece… that there is a place for the connectivity, and in research and preparation it’s often a godsend, but unplugging to really be where you are. It’s important to be in one place at a time when we can. I must admit that I’m gravitating more towards NOT researching anything in advance and just hitting the ground cold. There is a balance to be found for sure.

  5. Jennifer Miller Says:

    Frisko… I’m not arguing against preparation, just wondering if sometimes we need to unplug a bit and live in one place at a time. On the other hand… I wouldn’t call people who intentionally choose not to read everything they can lay their hands on in advance “mindless vagabonds.” There is much to be said for entering with no presuppositions and learning as we go.

  6. Jennifer Miller Says:

    Mohamed… indeed. I share your conflict with the necessity of pre-planning and how it plays out in the real world.

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