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A double-edged sword

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View Europe 2023 on AvrilAbroad's travel map.

I’ve been stymied by technology for the past several days, having been locked out of my Shaw webmail 3-count-em-three times, then locked out of my Shaw account altogether, then having to remove and reinstall my email app on my iPhone – all involving endless hours online late at night with tech support to try to resolve the issues once and for all. This has not made me an amusing companion for Avi (who has been exceptionally patient as I rant about the aggravations of modern technology), and it has not stimulated my imagination or my creativity – unless you count the creative ways I imagine dismembering my computer and the colourful curses I dream up.

However. The problems seem to have been solved at last (at least until the next one crops up), so I’m settling in with said computer to muse out loud about the mixed blessings that computer technology has brought to the travel experience.

On the one hand, it’s pretty awesome that we have so many ways to communicate with folks while we're far away. Email. Text. WhatsApp and Facebook and blogs – all designed to keep us in touch with family, friends, clients – even strangers! And we have the entire internet to answer our every question. What’s the best beach near Porto? Which hotel or guesthouse or Airbnb will give us the nicest room for the best price? What’s the best driving route from Tomar to Coimbra? How do I get to the museum from the café I’m in right now, and how long will it take me to walk there? Where should we eat tonight? It’s all there at our fingertips.

And yet. There’s another side to all this. Even setting aside the above-mentioned tech glitches, computer technology has changed the travel experience.

Because we can stay in touch, we feel we must stay in touch. No excuse for lengthy silences, for not knowing what’s going on with friends and family, for just kind of disappearing into our vacation and off the map.

Because our apps make it so easy to find our way, we use them to plot out our every route. No need to ever get lost again: Google Maps will show us exactly how to get from point A to point B, and just how long it will take.

Because every piece of information we need (or merely want) is programmed into our ever-present devices, we can look up anything we want to know in seconds … and so we do.

I don’t know about you, but for me the result is that it distances me from the actual on-the-ground experience I'm having. My body is here, but my head is half-buried in my iPhone: looking up information, determining where we are/where we're going/how we’ll get there, or communicating with friends on the other side of the world.

When I travelled around Asia nearly 40 years ago (brief pause for WTF moment – 40 years ago?!? WTF!!), none of this was possible because … what is this “internet” you speak of? Not even a gleam in most of our eyes. We communicated (if at all) by snail mail (or what we simply called “mail” since that’s the only kind there was), we figured out where to stay once we got somewhere, and we used big, fold-out paper maps to find our way around – or we got lost. And guess what: we totally managed! We were fine not being in daily touch with the world, because we didn’t expect to. We somehow found our way around without GPS-tracking every curve in the road. (And honestly, getting lost was half the fun!) We met our friends at the appointed places without texting each other where we were because … what is this “texting" you speak of? And if Plan A didn’t work out, we always had a Plan B.

Was it better then? I don’t think that’s what I’m suggesting, but it was definitely simpler, and I do confess to a nostalgia for a simpler time when we weren’t so intimately bound to our technologies, however useful and helpful they might be. Like I said: a mixed blessing.

Anyway. This is what you get from me when I’ve spent too much time online dealing with 21st century problems. I promise my next post will be more fun. In the meantime, here are some photos of places and things that don’t make it into the guidebooks but that have delighted my eye over the past couple of weeks.

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Scenes from tiny little streets we follow when we aren't trying to get anywhere in particular.

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Plain walls, fancy walls, walls with portraits of dogs painted on them.

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Carved ladies everywhere.

Posted by AvrilAbroad 23:41 Archived in Portugal Tagged technology travel computers

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Comments

Sounds like a great time 😊. I do beg to differ about Google maps though….we used it twice now to find places that were mere minutes away but took us on very roundabout routes and eventually, after about 1 1/2 hopes each time, we got to ours destination 🤣🤣🤣. I still like fold out maps (Rick Steve’s version) but even those don’t have everything we need….sigh. Getting “lost” though is fun and offers us opportunities to walk close to 20,000 steps each day 🤣🤣🤣

by Ev Orloff

Yes, Google Maps does sometimes provide very strange route suggestions. My favourite navigation system ever was the little Plan de Paris book that I bought in Paris in 1985. Each page spread showed a section of the city, and I would just turn to a page, put my finger down randomly, find the closest metro station to that spot, and start walking. Paris is a maze so I often got lost, but I always found my way back. I still have it the book!

by AvrilAbroad

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