Travel and Technology : A rant

NOTICE: Despite its appearance, this post is not about The Dark Knight Rises

I want to watch The Dark Knight Rises but due to Ramadan, cinemas in Kuwait have delayed the opening till after Eid to pull in maximum crowds as most locals won’t go to movies during the holy month.

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So I searched the web for an alternate Batman fix. The Internet is full of reviews raving about it but with spoiler warnings so can’t really read those. Watching old Batman movies comes highly recommended but Nolan and Tim Burton movies are fresh in my mind as they are the ones really worth re-watching. However, I don’t think watching old movies would give me the peace I am seeking.

Some websites recommended graphic novels and this I thought I could do. They are darker than Batman movies especially the ones with Joker as he is one sick twisted f@#king psychopath (I know I am over doing it but some of the graphic novel depictions of Joker are horror inducing). Batman – Death in the family (a four part series) came highly recommended so I got myself this series and started reading it.

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By the end of first part of the novel, Batman’s sidekick Robin is running away from our hero to find his birth mother (that he just found out was different from the one he was led to believe all along) and takes a flight out to Lebanon where he thinks he will be able to find her.

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I have yet to open part 2 but I let my imagination wander a little wondering how they would depict Lebanon in the next part.

Will it be exotic? Similar to depictions in travel ads with a market filled with Arab hawkers in their head gears, covered women with inviting eyes, shops selling mysterious artifacts. The travel ads by airlines which one would see in old issues of Reader’s Digest were amazing with images or paintings of exotic locals, sun kissed beaches, tropical forests, secluded locations, crowded markets etc. Your were struck by wanderlust and your imagination fired up thinking about mysteries surrounding such places and what you may discover or what kind of adventure you may end up having when you finally visit such a place.

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But with internet, photo sharing on facebook, multiple travel shows on TV, and every street, alley, dirt road mapped and loaded on to your GPS there are no mysteries to unravel or discoveries to be made or amazing adventures to be undertaken.

I remember traveling to Turkey almost a decade ago. Internet was there but in terms of information it wasn’t well organized. We accessed Lonely Planet website for some information but actual plans were made using decade old and outdated travel books bought from second hand bookstores in Karachi. During our travel, we did visit all the places we had set out to see yet we also visited a lot of places which weren’t on our itinerary as they fell in our path, or we lost the way, or found ourselves in some back alleys that weren’t covered by our books. Hence we were found ourselves taking quite a few off-the-beaten-path detours.

We enjoyed all the landmarks such as Aya Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Ephesus, Selcuk etc but to be honest our real memories are of the unplanned adventures we got into by getting lost in mazes of small streets, being dropped on the highway in the middle of night kilometers away from the town, stopping for a night in a little village that was not on our itinerary but because we saw a lively festival happening there. We tried local cuisine, some food was unpalatable, too bland for our spices seeking taste buds, but we also had some deliciously cooked food that we still reminisce about.

I am not saying this is not possible anymore. It’s just that there is no room or reason for it now. Since we couldn’t book everything online for Turkey, our itinerary was very loose and that allowed us the flexibility to get lost.

This year we did a trip to western Europe for three weeks. Internet is overflowing with information such as how to make the most of Seville if you have just 6 hours in that city that you can pretty much plan and anticipate every step of your journey as people leave all itineraries on the web including what buses to take, which entrance has the shorter line and even in which order to visit the places. We had pretty much planned every hour including such minor things as taking one hour coffee break from 3pm to 4pm on Champs Elysee watching the crowd go by, sitting for two hours from 4pm to 6pm on Spanish steps in Rome and even our rest stops for soaking-in-the-atmosphere were planned. Not because it had to be done rather because it COULD be done.

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Our cellphones had GPS so we didn’t get lost in the back alleys. All the buses routes and times had been uploaded into our phones so we didn’t end up taking wrong buses and discovering a part of town that we didn’t intend to. Nobody wanted to risk money trying the local cuisine, out came the cellphone and we found the restaurants offering Pakistani food in Europe.

No more surprises at finding the hotel teeming with seedy characters or suspicious ladies as visitors on TripAdvisor and other hotel booking sites had already told us off from staying at such hotels. Earlier such detailed information about hotel, it’s character, staff attitude, cleanliness, quality of breakfast buffet, etc wasn’t even collected. Now you know from what to expect in terms of room cleanliness to on which floor and rooms the hotel’s wifi signals do not reach.

In earlier days, when people visited places, mostly they’d tell you stories about it or describe you how magnificent some monument was and how beautiful certain city looked. They didn’t carry their physical photo albums every where so you built your own picture of the place in your mind by how they described it to you. This picture may have been different than the reality and it always came as surprise when you get the chance to see the place for yourself years later.

Now not only Internet is filled with millions of images of the monument, Google street maps have actual pictures of how the streets look like and most of all your friends fill their Facebook albums with hundreds of pictures of themselves standing in front of those monuments when they went there on a vacation, business trip or honeymoon so you already have detailed 360 degree views of the place even before you visit it. You may not get the feeling of awe by looking at the pictures but now you have a pretty good idea of what you will exactly find when you visit the place. The possibility of being wonder struck has diminished to a large extent especially with man made structures. (Nature can overwhelm you no matter how many pictures you have seen as camera so far cannot capture the magnificence of natural wonders).

Now nobody wants to hear stories and how you felt when you saw it. All they expect is a picture of you in the same frame as the monument and that’s it. And most of the time that’s what people do when they return from a trip i.e., instead of narrating their travel stories and experiences they now show you their picture taken with the monument in the back ground.

Japanese tourist groups used to be such a stereotype in American movies, every tourist in the group wearing a similar hat, each tourist brandishing his or her own camera and as soon as something comes in view, all the cameras going up with military precision everyone taking the picture from the same angle_click click click. Then they move on to the next sight as if taking the picture was a box to be ticked on their itinerary.

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We had similar observations in our recent trip, but not just about Japanese tourists but almost all tourist. Point and shoot camera were ubiquitous as they are cheap. 20120802-132122.jpgNo aspiring photographer had wanted be seen without his or her DSLR and the rest used cameras in their mobile phones. Initially, it was pretty weird that a crowd of people unknown to each other traveling in a train or bus or even walking along a path would take out their cameras and start clicking in such synchronicity as if they have all been in the same military battalion as soon as a sight would come into view.

In the world famous Accademia Gallery in Florence, where one can spend hours just admiring the magnificent statue of David, studying the contours of his physique and the sharp lines of anatomy by the master craftsman Michael Angelo, what we observed of a group touring with a guide clearly showed that how technology has ruined us.

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Guide (in some foreign language but you could make it out what she was saying) : “This is David by Michael Angelo”

Group: click click click (moving on)

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Guide: This is one of the four unfinished slaves by Michael A…

Group: click click click (moving on)

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Guide: This is the statue of ….

Group: Click click click (and so on)

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Some people still manage to eke out an adventure. Here is an example of adventure trip to Turkey : Tourism of another kind

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