Travel then and now
I am sure she meant no malice and perhaps I have said or thought the same at times. Yet the comment “I have seen it all on Facebook, so don’t need to ask you” came as a disappointment. Maybe she was preoccupied with her own life issues at the time so when I asked why she hadn’t asked about my last trip overseas that was the answer I got.
Once the disappointment of a perceived lack of interest lessened somewhat, I started thinking about how travel and recollections of travel have changed over the years. Once upon a time when our parents, and some of us (depending on our age group) travelled, there was no instant sharing of travel, no looking at exotic or familiar locations, no drooling over other people’s meals from the comfort of sitting in front of our computers or scrolling on our mobile tools.
In the past, there were eagerly anticipated postcards or if lucky,longer aerograms which had to be opened ever so carefully, pre-booked telephone calls of various audible quirks and qualities and long waits for snail-mail (Poste Restante) at the American Express offices in various capital cities. If disasters, big and small, occurred, we could not instantly call or text family to send money, rescue packages or a return ticket home. When bookings at hotel were not available because a person had made an error and there was no computer to blame, we had to trudge to the next hotel and the next… and in extreme cases sleep at the train station. It was considered normal to not communicate with one’s family for weeks at a time and the motto ‘no news is good news’ was the mantra for worried mothers and fathers of young, intrepid travellers. When communication was established it tended to focus on safety, availability of food and accommodation and often, on the vexed issue of running out of money. Communication was rarely about sights visited, pubs and restaurants frequented, people met or philosophising about one’s growth through travel; the cost of telephoning prohibited such verbal luxuries. These were all saved for the return home, with the developed and eagerly awaited photos or slides accompanying the stories which family and friends had not heard before. Of course, some stories were best left behind, no need for parents to hear about the hitchhiking or the climbing back into the hostel through a first floor window.
Phoning from a telephone box whilst overseas is now a thing of the past
So while travel and communication are a lot easier today and we have real time access to travel adventure stories, romances, meals eaten and people met, what happens when people come back from their travel? We have seen the photos of the good and the not-so-good experiences, we have seen the photos of the sprained ankle or broken foot, we have been privy to conversations between our friends and their other friends, in fact, we almost feel like we were there with them. The photos have shown us the sights they visited and what their impressions were, the incidents best kept private are not many. In academic writing, the use of social media platforms to share leisure and travel experiences is known as performative leisure and has become a recent research topic of interest (Future Foundation 2013).
What about us as travelers on our return home, do we get to recount and embellish our stories as our parents did in the past? And heaven forbid what if we were to stage an evening of photos and video clips a la slide nights of the 70s and 80s? Would the responses be similar to my friend’s, and if so, what about our need to share stories and photos with those close to us?
I am sure families and close friends would still listen with interest and perhaps they would try to jolt their minds for the accompanying photos they may have seen on social media. But in lots of ways, travel has also lost its currency as a point of interest, even difference, it is after all so very easy to travel these days. And what of the real-time curation and archiving of travel experiences, food, sights, people encountered; are we in effect leaving a legacy in cyber – world and on our computers, rather than in old photo albums and boxes with slides and 8mm film reels? Does that lessen the wonder of going through old boxes of black and white and washed-out colour photos and remembering people, places and stories long forgotten? Maybe, but perhaps the wonder lies in the sharing of these as they happen and the feeling of being connected with others wherever they may be in the world and surely that is a good thing too.
PS. A day after I wrote this reflection an article in The Age “The subsistence of memory” expanded on this theme.
“Are we forgetting the art of remembering now our devices do it for us ?”Paul Biegler, The Age September 18, 2016
Future Foundation.(2013).Performative leisure. Accessed August 24, 2015, from http://nvision.futurefoundation.net/