“Wish you were here.” It’s the archetypal message on a picture postcard, sent from a friend or family member in some far-off holiday or vacation spot. In fact, the expression has become so cliché that you can now find postcards with the sentiment already preprinted.
Despite the commonness of it, however, the feeling it conveys certainly rings true. Most of us would agree that there’s nothing better than having good companions along on our journeys and adventures. Sharing conversations about the new things we’re experiencing, having a shoulder to lean on when our adventures become somewhat prickly (as at some point, all adventures should!) and partaking in a hearty group laugh about the quirks of traveling these days is priceless.
Today, however, we have another option between the two extremes of having our loved ones with us on our adventures and only wishing they were: we can bring them along in our backpacks, so to speak, digitally.
Digital diaries and webcam wildlife
If you Google “adventure travel blogs” on the Internet today, you’ll get more than seven million results. What’s appealing to readers about these diaries is the immediacy of them. At any moment, for instance, you can read about someone’s day-to-day excursions in Kamchatka or see what’s going on this afternoon in the Galapagos. By tweeting, blogging and uploading photos of our travels in real time, it’s like taking our friends and family along on our journeys. No longer do they have to wait until we get home to see our photographs and hear about what we did on our trips.
I do enjoy reading the exploits of real-time travelers. It’s fun to “follow” a blogger who’s in a place that I might have visited 10 years ago to see how it’s changed, or to get familiar with a destination I’m considering traveling to with the photos and writings of one there now. And being able to watch webcams catching rare wildlife is a true treat of real-time adventures. But has this recent ability to share the immediate moment of our travels changed how we experience them? Is there now such a rush to photograph and quickly record what we’re doing (in 140 characters or less) that we are no longer able to take the time to appreciate and live in the moment of what’s right before us?
Rich in reflection and plenty of perspective
Mason Jennings, a singer-songwriter who joined the crew of the movie 180° South, a documentary about a band of surfer-mountaineers that sets out in 2007 to remake Yvon Chouinard’s 1968 van trip to Patagonia, recently said in a magazine interview, “We are never more alone than when we are on our computers or stuck in traffic, and we are never more connected than when we are present where we are.” I’d take it one step further: not only is the blogger missing out on making human connections when creating real-time travel reports, but the reader is also.
What’s missing in such adventure accounts—and always will be because of the timeliness inherent in the medium—is perspective and reflection. While it might be worthwhile to know that someone ate an excellent breakfast at a particular restaurant today or that the conditions for paddling in Scotland couldn’t be beat this afternoon, I’m probably not going to remember that article post a month from now. It’s not going to stick with me for the rest of my life, such as the adventure books—written and published years later—of Jon Krakauer or Barry Lopez. “Flash writing,” or writing on the go, doesn’t give us the time to connect the dots from our travels to our pasts, our prejudices, and our inner selves, which is what makes adventures meaningful and memorable.
Allowing our journeys to “marinate” is an especially valuable exercise these days, when we’re all so perpetually busy. Passing our adventures through the filter of time allows us the means to express what we feel and learned about them, forging a bond between writer and reader—far more so than reading a quick Facebook update or tweet.
Both real-time and reflective adventures are simulated, of course, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. The real-time, immediate ones tend to give us practical information; and the ones that have simmered a while, in the writer’s imagination, have the power to truly make us wish we were there.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural places,