As I sit staring out my window at the hills rising above the old yellow buildings with faded turquoise shutters, I realize that this perhaps the same view that inspired the paintings of Picasso and Cezanne. I glance down at the tiny café at street level and wonder who has passed through its door throughout the years. Je ne sais pas.
However, what strikes me more than anything is that while I could be staring at the same view that inspired these famous artists, how differently we take it in. While he soaked it up with all his senses, I snap a photo with my giant SLR camera and perhaps another with my tiny point-and-shoot. Instead of listening to the bustling world as it passes below, my iPod earpuds are firmly tucked in my ears.
While I still try to soak up my surroundings with all my senses, I am shocked by how much technology has changed the way people travel, and in turn, view the world. Just 10 years ago, I had never heard of the technology that now infiltrates my life: WiFi, smartphones, iPods. Now my carry-on is packed full with gadgets, wires and headphones—indicating that these are the things I value the most, the things I won’t trust to anyone else.
While technology unquestionably has some benefits for travelers, I wonder about its impact on how we experience our destinations. I think John Mayer sums up my feelings best in 3×5:
Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
I don’t think you can truly experience the world constantly behind the viewfinder or with headphones in. It’s not any fun if you Yelp every possible lunch choice, or make sure you stay on course using GPS. How can you enjoy yourself if your Blackberry is alerting you each time a work email comes through? The best stories come from taking chances, from leaving your day-to-day world behind.
I’m secretly grateful that my homestay doesn’t have WiFi. For the first time in years, I won’t be spending my evenings Facebook-stalking or checking Tweetdeck as I eat my breakfast. When I sit down to eat, I’ll be able to focus my entire self on enjoying the flavors of my preservative-free meals fresh from market.
My challenge to you: a technology-free day. Set aside one day of your travels (or your life at home) to simply enjoy the culture. Breathe deeply. Eavesdrop. Don’t track calories. Smell the roses. Watch the sunset. Get lost. Eat something with your fingers.
Note: I wrote this before I discovered WiFi in my apartment and spent last night on Tweetdeck. My computer must have sensed my guilt over spending my evening in front of the computer, and decided to not turn on this morning. Seeking out an Apple store tonight, so we shall see–I might truly be living sans technology soon!