The gift-giving-and-receiving season has been over for a few weeks now, and the chances that you were the recipient of at least one electronic gadget of some kind or another — such as a smartphone, laptop computer, or tablet — are good. You’re probably having fun discovering all the ways that your new device is capable of putting information and communication within easy reach of your fingertips.
But it seems that there is an inverse relationship between how much these devices make us more knowledgeable and world-savvy and how much they take away our imaginations and senses of wonder.
Could they also be dampening our spirits for travel adventures?
A lost sense of magic
Ever dreamed of seeing the Taj Mahal or wondered what the African savanna looks like at sunset? Just Google a virtual, 360-degree view of those places and times. The age of digitized adventure has indeed arrived, where almost anyone can go anywhere from the confines of his or her living room. Why spend the money, take the risk, or devote the time to go “there” when you can re-create the experience from home?
Before the widespread use of electronic devices, people often got the “travel bug” by reading nonfiction adventure accounts and stories. Adventure travel seemed appealing precisely because of the promises of the fantastic scenes, amazing wildlife, or strange cultures and societies that awaited us “out there.” Inventive wanderers and creative explorers had a way with words, describing the views from mountaintops (that they may or may not have actually climbed!) and the elusive and rare animals they encountered. Even growing up in Wisconsin, I heard local stories of what lurks in our Great Northwoods: hodags, giant sturgeon, ghosts of old loggers, and our own version of Bigfoot. There was always a sense that they could be real, and I wanted to travel to see them.
Today, however, almost no place on the planet is obscure anymore. Google Earth or the Internet — via live webcam — can tell you what’s going on in one particular eagle nest in Alaska, in one dark canyon in America’s Southwest, or inside a single roadless parcel of jungle. Satellite imagery of nearly the Earth’s entire surface is available online.
In 1996, author Robert Young Pelton published a book titled The World’s Most Dangerous Places. The New York Times called it “one of the most fascinating travel books to appear in a long time.” The book was a field guide to the planet’s hot spots, some engaged in war. Now, less than twenty years later, Pelton believes that as a society, we’re not as adventuresome as we were when he wrote the book. He has recently stated that today it’s not even cool to talk about visiting exotic places, because it’s then thought that you may be okay with getting kidnapped, killed, or blown up. The sense of magic surrounding the unknown that drove the eighteenth–century explorers is gone.
As satellites fail, desire for adventures might skyrocket
Today, it would be hard to get away with even the smallest embellishment when it comes to talking or writing about travel adventures. If you claim to have seen something unusual or done something remarkable, it’s expected that you will have a cell phone image or a GoPro video of it. The hodags and Loch Ness monsters — along with their tendencies to fire up our desires for adventures — died long ago.
I recently read, however, that many of the satellites now orbiting the Earth are getting old and breaking down. Funds to replace them are scarce. It will be interesting to see if once our eyes-in-the-sky diminish there is an uptick in the publication of adventure tales.
Have you ever wanted to visit a place because of an adventure account that you once read? Or did a virtual tour of a place convince you not to travel there?
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,