Has Technology Desensitized us to Authentic Travel Experiences?

The triple pat: Left front, right front, and right rear pocket; keys, phone, wallet. I do this every time before I walk out the door. Certainly others have to do this I wonder. My right front pocket is a little bit more worn because of all the times I'm grabbing my phone. I check it before I put in my pocket, then again before the end of the driveway, another time at the end of the street, and again at the end of my five-minute walk to the beach. I don't even get calls on it. I'm just using it in Central America for WiFi. One week in Coco, Costa Rica and I already have the public WiFi spots figured out. I check it for what? I'm not dating anyone. It's the Christmas holiday; why would anyone be trying to reach me? For what then? It's not until I get to the beach that I see my LCD light blink, alerting me of a new notification. It's nothing more than a spam message on Twitter.

Think about the real moments of satisfaction in your life. When were they? Was it while sitting at your desk at work? Maybe writing emails on your home computer? Uploading photos to Facebook? Reading blog comments possibly? These types of tasks may just be minutes at a time, but by the end of the day or week add up to hours. But are these when memorable moments take place? Draw on your most recent memorable moments. What is the footprint of technology in them? Maybe it was a girls weekend, summer beach vacation, an afternoon outdoors with your children, a night out with a significant other, or a major sporting event. How present is technology during these moments? It's not like you're going to be lying on your death bed and your final words be: "If only I would've tweeted more".

I recently asked the question: Why don't Americans use their vacation days? Not just why people don't use them, but why they don't use them to travel. Here's how it works: You get paid to not come into work. I mean EVERYONE played hooky when they were young and weren't compensated for it, yet when we grow up we're not going to do it when we now get PAID for it?

I'd like to suggest another possibility of why Americans don't travel: Travel experiences for many people are no different than that of staying at home. Exhibit A: How many times do you hear news stories or see headlines come across your social media feeds of another livid traveler who has racked up an outrageous phone bill due to roaming fees abroad. What's the highest so far? Anyone hit six digits yet? Exhibit B: “I know it sounds bad,’’ said Wallace, of Roslindale, as she worked on her laptop at Panera in Brookline, “but seeing if I had an e-mail was more exciting than looking at the sunset.’’ That's what one young woman on vacation at North Carolina's beaches was quoted as saying in this article about connectivity being a part of the travel experience. Another person in the same article states: “Connectivity has to be part of the travel experience now." Does technology really have to be a part of the travel experience? What would you miss if you went 12, 24, 48 hours, or even an entire week without technology?

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home."--James Michener

In college I lived in Africa for a summer. Many of the guys I hung out with were particularly fascinated with my life as an American. Their rooms weren't decorated with posters of top-heavy models as you might would expect, but rather posters of lavish homes, cars, and buildings. I didn't have much, but what I did have they were envious of: A car (an '89 Mazda Protégé), my own TV (a 19" TV), and a cell phone (A Nokia, the ones that come with the Snake game on it). There was such a curiosity about them. If you've traveled abroad to a different culture, then you may have experienced this yourself. But maybe it is me, who instead should have been fascinated with them.

This isn't a technology slam. That would be a double standard. I have this travel blog, a Tumblr blog, Twitter, Facebook, several photo apps on my phone, camera, camcorder, and GPS. I recently wrote about virtual relationships and about how so many of my closest friends of the last year have been a result of Twitter. However, technology doesn't win the day. Technology is the imitation and not the real thing. Yes, technology can connect, fill a void, enlighten, and satisfy, but it reaches a ceiling. I'm not after traveling virtually, having virtual sex, meeting people only online, or having a virtual database of Wikipedia knowledge. I want to use technology only as much as it extends into the real world around me. I want experiences. I want to climb mountains, win over friends, go on dates, surf waves, speak different languages, eat new foods, and see beautiful sights.

It's my last week in Costa Rica and I'm going out for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I slide the door behind me and do my triple pat before locking the door. I hesitate. My right pocket is empty. I smirk, lock the door, and walk away. I photographed, shot video, Twitpicked, and Facebooked a lot of Central America sunsets, but none come close to the sunset of this evening in Coco, Costa Rica. The orange, pink, and purple colors all mixed together. The thinly dispersed clouds. The sail boats on the horizon. The kayakers crossing back and forth just in front of me. And to my left and right, two dogs sit beside me, pausing briefly from time to time to lick their paw or chase their tail, but looking out across the water with me for nearly a half-hour. Beautiful, glorious, majestic? No. No words can quite describe this sunset. I didn't get a photo of it. I didn't tweet  it or post something on Facebook. I only wrote about it, longhand, in a notebook so that I would have at least something to draw on the memory of. This is the first time I've even spoken of it.

A few hours later, after dinner and a couple drinks with newly formed friends at my favorite beach bar, I walk back home and immediately open up my laptop. No missed Skype calls, no unread emails, no new tweets, no new Facebook notifications.

To make myself feel a little better, I did write part of this longhand, and without the accompaniment of music or TV. However, I also wrote part of it while listening to my "Inspiration" playlist, which included tracks by the Doobie Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Sufjan Stevens, and Flogging Molly. I even tweeted a couple times while writing this, which included an Arrested Development joke. I also indulged in a bowl of frosted flakes. However, it too was the imitation, and not the real thing. Nonetheless, I'm offsetting a morning chock full of technology with both a lunch and dinner engagement today. I feel so grown up. If you didn't like anything you've read so far, maybe you'll like this additional reading. Or at least this sick goal by U.S. Women's National Soccer player Alex Morgan. If nothing else, there's always money in the banana stand.

Additional Reading