It’s crazy to think how quickly technology has changed our lives, and the rapid pace with which it continues to do so. Remember going to video rental stores: the suspense of not knowing if your choice would even be in stock? Even better, remember when you had to rewind? Remember those days before GPS and iPhones, when you actually had to stock a car with fold-out maps from AAA before a road trip? When getting lost was actually a real and daunting possibility?
Remember the days before Wikipedia and Google when it was possible not to know something, when you could argue a point to death with each side convinced they were right? Remember when you only checked in to a hotel, actually liked more things than just a status update or photo album, when tweeting was something left to the birds?
It scares me a bit to think how quickly technology improves and proves itself indispensable. I still remember when, 10 years ago, I couldn’t fathom why I would ever need an iPod: I had my CD case stocked with all my favorites and my super-portable and battery-operated Discman!
Even though I’m still Apple-happy with a MacBook Air and an iPod classic, I’ve taken a bit of technology step back. Not being able to afford a new unlocked iPhone (or being able to commit to a 24-month contract) has left me with serious iPhone envy in Australia. While I miss the convenience and social benefits of an iPhone, my awful little Nokia has also forced me to look at the upsides of not being so connected all the time.
- Focus on the experience: My best trips in the past year have been when I’ve been with not-so-tech-savvy friends—who call out my Internet addiction and force me offline. Going without an iPhone, iPod or computer when soaking up the sun in Corsica with Nevin, revealing my favorite Paris sites to first-time visitor Rex and tripping along the Great Ocean Road with Renee are some of my favorite memories of the last year—mostly because I was completely undistracted by catching up on my Reader, feeling compelled to tweet or giving in to Facebook stalking. I actually enjoyed the scenery, had long conversations and –overall, created more meaningful experiences.
- Use more senses: I rarely go anywhere without my iPod. While I love having my entire music library available to mold to my mood on my walk to work or a long airplane ride: an upbeat song to wake me up, a moody song when I’m feeling homesick, my sleep mix on an overnight flight. But constantly having my earbuds in cuts me off from the world: the sound of an oncoming tram, the opportunity to make a new friend by chipping in on a conversation.
- Have more unexpected moments: Being connected often cuts you off from the world around you. Having your earphones in, being engrossed in your cell phone or typing away at your computer automatically tells surrounding people that you’re not to be disturbed. It prevents people from starting a conversation or involving you in their lives: it really does isolate you in your own world.
- Be a better friend: When you turn off the noise of being connected, you automatically become a more enjoyable person to be around. When I don’t have my phone, I’m a much better listener because I’m not checking text messages or becoming distracted by the beep of an incoming email.
- Think ahead (or work harder): Without having the luxury of a smart phone with GPS, I have to plan my public transportation routes in advance. Or I have to read a map. I can’t just shake my phone and have Urban Spoon tell me where to eat: I have to check my copy of Cheap Eats for the best places in the area. It forces me to be more prepared and make more of an effort: I can’t just rely on my iPhone to do it for me.
Do you ever “unplug” on your travels? What are the benefits and disadvantages you find?