Staying In/Losing Touch: Traveling and Technology

staying in touch

*Ping-Pong*

Ah the familiar sound of 21st century normalcy. Instant updates from friends around the world. Untold stories finding the light of day and gaining momentum. Lost causes being found and shared and transformed into causes for hope. It’s the sound of being together like in the good ol’ days, even when we can’t be. It’s the sound of cleverness at the latest meme or witty remark. It’s the sound of what we’ve come to expect: fast, immediate, informed, connected.

It’s the sound of us staying in/losing touch.

***

To plug in or unplug? This is the modern traveler’s quest(ion) worth pursuing.

I suppose there is a time for both, as well as a natural inclination toward one option or the other. I would guess that as the world advances in the area of technology, the temptation is to be increasingly wired.

Of course, that’s all subjective to your level of addiction.

Rather than telling you which way is the right way to travel, I’m more interested in having a conversation about technological balance. For those of us who are literally lost without our smartphones, I want to offer an intervention of sorts. For those of us content with the analog days, I want to enlighten you with dazzling new possibilities. For all of us sharing the human experience, I want to connect us back to what we’re really looking for when we turn to technology, in hopes that we can more fully engage with the world whether we’re plugged in or not.

***

The present-day traveler has a thousand apps at her disposal to clue her in on what’s essential and what’s essentially avoidable, where to go, how to get there, and a reservation for when she does. She has invisible waves filling the air she breathes which can be tapped into to offer a thousand different possibilities to fulfill whatever need she currently has, be it entertainment, solidarity, or revenue generation.

Worries are calmed. Friends are inspired. We arrive safely with stories to tell.

Technology is a beautiful thing.

You won’t hear a denial from me about my want, dare I say need, to be plugged in. It’s the way I choose to live. I like movies and games and music and blogs. I like knowing what’s going on in the world. I like hearing other’s opinions about things I’m interested in. I like having all my music in the palm of my hand.

The benefits of being plugged in are numerous and fairly obvious.

The challenge for me is to know when enough is enough; when to indulge and when to cut back; when technology enhances and when it detracts. Do I really need to let everyone know what my schedule is at this moment? Probably not. Does reaching level 78 in ‘Minion Rush’ actually mean anything, like, in real life? Hardly. Do you really want to know which character from The Hobbit I am most like? Okay, I’ll give that one to you. It’s Gandalf.

Obviously.

I cannot help but wonder if being constantly plugged in violates something essential in us as we travel the wide expanses of the Serengeti or walk along the endless stream of the Great Wall. We no longer really know what it’s like to feel totally disconnected. That uneasiness and aloneness is foreign to most of us. We have GPS so we can always find or be found. We have the backlight to keep us laughing or distracted. We have little need to even interact with actual people when Siri’s got our back. No more does it seem like we’re at the mercy of the Narrator.

Because there’s an app for him, too.

And a little piece of why we came out to these places dies with each passing *ping-pong*.

ipod

***

Why then do we turn so quickly to the comforts of modern technology? What need is it filling in us? Is there the possibility that we’re too dependent, too engrossed, too distracted from what’s really important? At some point, technology surely becomes more than the tool it is meant to be. It becomes our obsession. Like, how people say “it’s official” once it happens on Facebook, as if the digital realm validates our lived out experiences.

I wonder if we care too much about what other people think and technology gives us the megaphone we’ve always desired to authenticate our worth to the world?

I wonder if we’re looking to drown out the silence because we know we would be too vulnerable there?

I wonder if we just can’t bear to think that the world somehow goes on without us?

These and more, I assume. And while it’s so good to have our present conveniences and connections and opportunities, I reckon we need occasional breaks. Time apart. Extended time. So what if you have Google Maps? Pretend you don’t. Ask the local butcher and get lost anyways. Opt for a conversation on the train instead of your iPod. Buy a secondhand book and sit in the park on a sunny day. Find ways to cut down on your “plugged in” time and plug in to the real world instead.

Because there is great value in being present where we are and not immediately turning to our iPhones for security. In fact, why not challenge yourself to downgrade to a more simple, “less smart” phone? Or put restrictions on internet usage during your day. Or have specific recharge times – once the battery is dead, it stays dead until tomorrow.

My guess is you’re now calling me an idiot or a hypocrite and are ready to close the tab. Fair enough. It’s easy not to think about our technological consumption. I just can’t help but wonder at the lengths we’ve gone to in binding ourselves with wi-fi and digital personas. We want to be stimulated and simulated. We want to be entertained and enthralled. We want to consume and create. We want to laugh and be moved and feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.

I just think that more often than not we look for much of that fulfillment in the wrong places. Technology, for all her wonderful advances, cannot feed our spirits and souls the food they were created for. But she was never meant to, either.

She has her place. And you have your choices. As long as we recognize what we’re really choosing when we choose to plug in or to unplug.

It’s the irony of electricity, isn’t it? The screens offers stories of bold lives lived to the fullest, yet they can never give what they tell. For that, you have to turn the power off,

go,

and take it for yourself.

tv

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