Technological advances have always changed the way that humans interface with the world around them. Our brain is a black box that uses senses to gather data, and so when additional data sources are available then it naturally expands our mind. The advent of the printing press allowed adventures in far off lands to be relayed back to those at home, creating whole worlds in people’s imaginations. Television allowed these worlds to be given shape and colour – framing our ideas of unknown places and people. Today, before you visit somewhere on holiday, you will almost certainly have seen a picture or video of it.
This additional data – pre-experience-data – completely changes the way that we see the world. Rather than relying on our immediate senses: the smell of the air in Rome, the glint of the sun on a puddle in Paris, we conceive a detailed and data rich model of the place in our mind. We know what Rome looks like from friend’s instagram photos; you can get live streams of Eifel Tower to see exactly how many puddles there are in May.
For the purposes of travel the impact of experiencing a place through pre-data is relatively limited and has been going on for centuries. Whilst it may reduce the magic and surprise of exploring a place for the first time it may also remove the chance of getting lost on the way to the hotel. However, since the introduction of the smart phone we are not just experiencing places before we see them. We’re experiencing people before we meet them, jobs before we do them and events before they happen.
As you have probably experienced, the weather when visiting a place is not always as expected; the photos may have not captured the essence of the mist in the mountains (or the lack of a window in the bedroom). And in the same way the flat two dimensional data points through which people meet the person they’ll marry profoundly shapes their first real interactions. You can often tell a first Tinder date because the couple spend a few moments trying to connect the text and photo data points to the real thing. Often, if they don’t match up, it can spell danger for the next date.
The more time one spends interfacing with technology, downloading data to inform the models in one’s mind, the less one actually experiences the world. Even a tourist’s journey can be almost completely interfaced through technology. Book online, look at pictures online, arrive and instagram, visit famous sites and live stream. The danger of a complete interface with technology is that whilst real and unpredictable data streams can create the true magic in life – that unexpected moment of sheer joy – these moments can never come through technology. Even with virtual reality, the canned thrill rides are calculated and algorithmic. Magical experiences aren’t random, they’re chance interacting with an individual; a dialog rather than a monologue with a VR headset.
The best instances of technology are when we are pushed to interface more with the world, rather than less. It gets out of our way, and let’s us experience the thrill of the world directly, rather than through a series of pixels. So when. tempted to research fully that next place you go to, or resteraunt you want to try – why not do something different and just go there.