Travel technology: When more is less

Vending machines JapanInformation is power, or so we are repeatedly told. We may be living in a consumerist society, but a closer look around us and we see that what we are increasingly consuming is not tangible goods but information and data. We can flick through the latest news stories while we work; we receive instant alerts with updates from our favourite TV shows or football team; we can even follow our friends on their morning commute, through words, pictures and even video when things go spectacularly wrong.

There’s an App for that

The same technological advances are changing the way we travel. Are you worried about who your seating partner will be on that 12 hour flight? Now you can select an appropriate match before you board. Stuck in a strange town and need to find somewhere to eat? Simply hold up your phone and a stream of reviews will appear telling you which places have the best ratings from previous tech-savvy visitors. Want to behave just like a local? There’s an app for that too. Simply use your smartphone and follow the line of other i-tourists acting like long-term residents.

Sometime in the future people will look back at the days before the information explosion and wonder how people managed to travel at all. They’ll ask themselves “How could someone just step out on the streets of a strange city and risk getting lost without any device to get them back to their hotel?” They might wonder how anyone ever managed to arrange a meeting without being able to send maps, coordinates or satellite images; “You arranged it by actually speaking on the phone? No way, grandad!” They will probably shake their heads at the fool who wandered into a hotel without checking to see if previous guests had complained of bedbugs or blood-stained walls.

Silent Nights

We’ve barely started our journey of progress in travel technology and yet some elements of travelling have already changed dramatically. Go to a cafe now and it is likely to be far quieter than it would have been 10 years ago. In the past friends would catch up on their gossip, workers would hold informal meetings and mothers would watch each others’ children while enjoying a chatter. Now you’ll notice far more people using the cafe to enjoy the free wi-fi on offer. Those on their own will be hard at work and even those who are sitting together are doing so in silence, each one deep in concentration at something that can’t wait (usually Facebook). The same applies to hotels – ask a hotel manager and they’ll tell you how much earlier the average guest now retires to their room. Why take in the unusual sights of your temporary surroundings when you could be uploading photos from your day and sharing them with the world?

Back to the future?

Technology has made travelling easier in so many respects, particularly in the early planning stages of a trip. But it also carries with it a danger that our travel experience will be dominated by maintaining constant access to the world of information. There is a balance to be found and as progress continues we might find ourselves increasingly opting out in order to make the most of our travels.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

6 Responses to “Travel technology: When more is less”

  1. Most of us travel (at least for leisure) to “switch off” or experience “something new” – much of the technology we use keeps us in contact with our day to day life and stops us achieving either.

    I love to unplug when I travel.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:30 am
  2. What a coincidence! I made the ‘resolution’ on #TNI last night not to get too obsessed about seeking wifi or an Internet café …. whether I’ll keep it or not is another matter.

    However, I do make a habit of switching my mobile phone off when ‘walking the virtual dog’. That is definitely ‘me-time’!

    December 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm
  3. It occurs to me that here in Australia, where free public wifi is rare (for reasons I’ve never understood), cafes are still fairy noisy, lively places full of people meeting up. Maybe that’s a reason for me to be thankful for the lack of free wifi, rather than cursing it – I like a bustling, chatty cafe environment as a break from the quiet of my home office.

    December 30, 2011 at 10:09 pm
  4. Thanks for the comments guys. Dan, that’s the challenge – to be disciplined enough to unplug when we travel. We’re so used to receiving regular updates for news/sport/work messages that to go without for an extended period can be a tough ask. It’s easy to forget about it when we’re out of range of a signal and the temptation isn’t there at all.

    Tim, those Australian cafes sound far better than the average Starbucks in the UK.

    Keith, me-time on a walk is a godsend. I know what you mean…

    January 1, 2012 at 7:21 pm
  5. Excellent points. I was just thinking the same before our most recent trip. My wife was using her phone to get us to the port and i was thinking that not too long ago we had a map spread out in front of us on the dashboard on a roadtrip. Kids wont even know how to read those things.
    Dan, unwillingly i was totally unplugged on the cruise we went. I thought they had wifi on board, they did, they just wanted your wallet for it. so had no connection for the duration, and it was great 🙂

    January 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm
  6. I think used in moderation technology is definitely useful – I mean do we want to go back to walking into a high street travel agent? (Am I showing my age here? :-)) but mainly in the planning stage. Nothing beats the personal connection you get from travelling, you’d be a fool to put a barrier between you and others. Hey, I’d never have met my wife if we’d both had laptops in that African bar…
    If you’re interested have a look at my post on how I made judicious use of technology on a short trip to London here: http://grownuptravelguide.com/how-tech-can-help-you-travel-a-case-study

    January 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm