Travels with my phone

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Recently, I came across some photos of the year my husband and I went travelling. The above is one of many we have of the Route 66 (I-40) when we spent a few months in the USA and did a driveaway.

We picked up a jeep in LA and dropped it off in Toronto driving on the Route 66 for as much of the trip as we could. We had a really nice book which described what was left of Route 66 and the landmarks and the interesting detours. And we had a camera – a predigital one – which you put film in the back and by the time you got your photos developed, you had completely forgotten what they were of and they were a complete surprise.

When we pulled onto Route 66, we stopped to snap the first historic sign by the side of the road. Then, we stopped again to snap the painted sign on the road. And then we took a couple of panaramic ones of the road stretching out ahead. And then, my husband said, ‘Right, no more pictures of the road.’

Yeah right! In Toronto we dropped off the jeep and got our photos developed, and we had so many pictures of Route 66, typically like the one above. Often we are lying on the jeep, or sitting on a rock, but mainly we have one identical picture after another of that unique view.

If we had had a digital camera, would we have spent a lot more time browsing our photos on the camera and then not taking more of the same? How is our photo taking different now?

And that got me thinking: If we went travelling now in this connected world, would our experience be different?

Back then in our backpacks, we had:

  • One camera between us and each time we got some photos developed we would post them back to the UK for safe keeping.
  • No phones. Neither one of us had a mobile phone, so we drove miles and miles without any way of contacting anyone. I don’t remember thinking about what we would have done had we broken down.
  • Several books, which were reading including the Route 66 Guide. They were heavy but reading materials back then and now are essential
  • A notebook or two to write in about our experiences and who knows what else.
  • Huge fold out maps to manage where we were.
  • A cash book to keep track of what we spent.
  • A calculator.
  • A watch.
  • Our RTW airline tickets which we needed to keep dry and safe.

I am sure we had a lot of other stuff which I can’t remember that we dragged around along with a ridiculous ukulele (Waikiki beach) and an umbrella from Kyoto. Today, souvenirs aside, much of my backpack would be replaced by my smartphone and a charger.

On our phones, we would google local landmarks and use google maps to plan our route. We would download books to read on our phones – although the husband prefers his tablet to read on. We would have a copy of that Route 66 book we so liked. And, we would be able to read it at the same time. We would share a spreadsheet across our devices so we could calculate and keep track of spending. Our airline tickets would be in an app. I would be able to check my bank balance too!

And keeping in touch? What would I do?

Back then, whilst staying in the outskirts of Bangkok I got up early one morning to walk to a phone box to phone my parents as it had been a while and they worried a lot. I had a phone card which we had tracked down the night before. Wow! Nowadays, I’d probably text. Quick and easy without the need to calculate time differences without getting out of bed, unless I was running around looking for a signal.

And what about postcards? Each new country we went to, I sent my parents a postcard, which I found in a drawer at their place a couple of years ago. When I looked at them, they didn’t seem at all representative of all the experiences we had. Would I still send postcards now? Or, would I have a blog with loads of photos and text anyone could read?

Would I go to an Internet cafe to write? Would I do it on my phone? I am guessing I would just be snapping pictures and writing/speaking text into my phone ready to upload at the next hotspot. I imagine I would be constantly looking for somewhere to recharge my phone.

And that makes me wonder, would I be having the same experience? If I was so busy documenting it and presenting it ‘in real time’, as it were, would I be present? I blogged last week about how I disagree with Sherry Turkle who believes we are all addicted to technology to take us out of our our lives and to put our attention elsewhere. I believe that we use technology to change the conversation, because it is people we are using technology to connect to. But, I don’t believe the consequences of being permanently connected is making us shallow and unable to connect with others, ourselves and the present moment in the real world.

But, back to pondering technology in a round-the-world trip,: Would I be present in that experience if I was busy putting it online? Was I present then? Or, did I have my nose in a book? Nowadays, would I have my nose in a phone? Like people who look at landmarks via their tablet or smartphone instead of at the landmark itself.

I remember towards the end of the trip, my husband and I were a bit weary – we had done a lot of seeing and doing and were feeling that we were on the home stretch. For too long, we had been in some crazy limbo and we were looking forward to getting back to our lives. What a curious idea? Like we weren’t living our life, right there and then. No, our real lives were elsewhere, we had just borrowed these ones.

And where were we that night? We were on a roof terrace of a swanky hotel overlooking Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, with a great view of the Corcovado, drinking Prosecco on a hot balmy evening and chatting.

Throughout that year we were together 24/7 and we chatted. So many words, a lot of which I don’t remember. But that night I remember the conversation clearly, because we both admitted as fantastic as that evening was- the place, the view, the hotel, the people – and how lucky we were, we wished we were back in rainy England with a nice a plate of fish and chips.

And today, as I type this, in sunny but cold England, I would love to be back there on that terrace with my husband. And if time could grant me that gift would I pay more attention and be more mindful of that moment? I don’t think so. For with or without technology, we are always looking for the next thing. It’s human nature. Which is why mindfulness is so good. It gives us a break from all that yearning.

The downside of being present though, is that you end up with a million identical photos of that unique moment.

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