Obsolete Technology

The upside of getting lost.

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I was just reading an article about obsolete technology. Number one on the list: folding maps. Apparently they’re as passé as buggy whips. But I just did a 9,000 kilometre trip using folding map technology. I had no GPS device. Or more accurately I did but I wasn’t about to turn it on. Am I really the only traveller who is terrified of roaming charges? When I’m out of home range my smartphone looks to me like a miniature gas pump—start it running and watch the numbers spin. A folding map can be opened without fear. I would no more use my smartphone than I would pick up the phone in a fancy hotel room. They are devices designed to vacuum cash from my pants.

Modern devices have obvious benefits. The downsides are less obvious. It’s hard to argue the benefits of getting lost. But they exist. Once in London I climbed onto a double-decker bus intending to go to Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately my bus was going the other way. (GPS devices can’t cure pure stupidity, which is somehow reassuring.) The result was a cheap tour of parts of London I would never otherwise have seen, ending in the charming neighbourhood of Crouch End.

Something similar happened in Bologna, although that case was somewhat more drastic. The driver suddenly announced this was the last bus for the evening, his shift was over, and he was going back to the garage (I think that’s what he said—strangely enough the man was speaking Italian). He dropped me at a stop in the middle of nowhere where the next bus would arrive the following morning. After a bit of wandering and a few adventures I ended up getting a lift to my hotel from a friendly local. It was my favourite Bologna experience. Not much of an argument against GPS perhaps, but it is testimony to the upside of getting lost.

Cutting loose from technology can enrich travel. When you don’t have earbuds in you hear the random music around you—it becomes the soundtrack of your journey. Not having a portable entertainment system in your pocket is like turning off the television. A smartphone can take you away from the mundane and the everyday, which is fine when you need to escape from the mundane and everyday. But you’re travelling, so you did that already. A journey is the time to escape from your everyday technology.

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November 12, 2014