30 December 2009

Goodbye, info overload; hello, willful ignorance

Willful ignorance: the new hot trend in travel? If so, I'd like to think I was on the cutting edge.

The January issue of Travel + Leisure features an excellent essay by Peter Jon Lindberg about the benefits and pitfalls of using social networking while traveling. There's lots to like, he notes, including the fact that we can find out pretty much anything we want to know--"With minimal effort, in the comfort of a hotel lobby, I can plot a route to a restaurant I’m considering, download tonight’s menu, translate it instantly from the Catalan, read 47 detailed customer reviews, call up TwitPics of the razor clams, even take some guy’s virtual tour of the dining room."

But Lindberg concludes, as many of us (travelers and otherwise) have, that maybe technology is robbing us of some of the joy, serendipity, and human interaction that are rather key, if intangible, components of a happy life.
Part of the thrill of travel is in the mystery it entails, the buzz that comes from trying to imagine what this strange new place will even look like. The gap between our expectations and harsh reality is diminishing, but so, too, I can’t help but think, is our excitement.
It’s true that information-age tools enable us to have easier, safer, more reliable vacations. But sometimes we have better vacations in spite of them. The danger is in using these conveniences simply because we can. Especially when we travel—which, after all, is supposed to entail stepping outside of ourselves and our little mobile cubicles. Take a look around you right now and count the number of people on the phone; I’ll bet they outnumber those who aren’t. The more we connect with the world above and beyond us, the harder it is to be present wherever we actually are.
I really don't think this point can be overstated. In fact, it's one of the main reasons for the nutty project documented in this blog. Using an outdated guidebook might be an extreme (perhaps even borderline ridiculous/stupid) reaction to information overload, but, well, that was the point: to be a bit extreme, to fight back and show that willful ignorance can have its benefits.

(And if you're new to this blog, this would be a great time to read the FAQs or to hop over to World Hum and watch the two-minute audio slideshow about my willfully-ignorant, information-underloaded experiences in Paris.)


  1. With a little knowledge we could have avoided the pirate bar. We would have known all the museum opening times and not have had to spend our day riding bikes. We wouldn't have been surprised at the sudden music festival that appeared, would never have questioned the strange, cult-like groups of young men wandering the city. With a little knowledge we would have known which restaurants to go to, so we'd probably never have had time for that awesome pizza place.

    And that's just Amsterdam.

    With a little knowledge, our trip itself would have been little and knowable. Instead it was big and weird. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

  2. If you have all that information, why bother to go? Does actually being on site offer that much added value?


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