I’ve been stooped over my laptop like a Talmudic scholar these past few days, trying to beef up the blog you see before you. This is no coincidence. Hoping to give my biggest New Year’s resolution a head start leading into 2010, I’m slaving away in an effort to do something I’ve shied away from for the past few years: join the Digital Age.
Admittedly, me trying to establish a web presence is like a Luddite trying to work a zipper. But I’m deferring to the judgment of those who know better: my friend Graham Holliday, for example, a Kigali-based writer who, having more or less conquered the world of old media, has been ahead of the curve in getting a new media foothold in Africa, of all places. (Though if you’re going to do it anywhere in Africa, you might as well do it in Rwanda.) Having already taught me how to repackage and resell a single story in multiple countries, Graham is sort of becoming my go-to guy on all things writing-related. Lucky Graham.
Then there was this excellent piece in the latest issue of Travel + Leisure, on how social media is changing the way we travel. Reporting from the frontlines of the 21st century, Peter Lindberg reflects on how
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. When I started covering travel 15 years ago, we hadn’t imagined search engines, let alone Skype. (Also? We walked to the airport, knee-deep in snow.) Last summer I listened to a Red Sox game live on my iPhone while on a layover in Hong Kong.
It should be observed, first of all, that Lindberg seems to present these developments as a good thing. (TwitPics of the razor clams?) The piece, however, is nuanced enough to recognize that for all we’ve gained through the crowd-sourcing wisdom of TripAdvisor, VirtualTourist and the like (let’s not forget my former employer, TravelGator!), we run the risk of losing the sense of mystery that is, really, the essence of why we travel. And the joy of exploring a place that is, ultimately, unknowable. (TwitPics be damned!)
This is no small thing. Lindberg describes a memorable encounter in the lobby of Barcelona’s slick Hotel Arts, where LL Cool J made an improbable cameo appearance to video Skype with a Chicago couple’s children. (“What’s up, kids? I’m here in Spain with your moms and pops!”) And he experienced
the weird sensation of being with a bunch of strangers who had all come to this spot to connect—yet not with each other. Here we were, a roomful of fellow travelers: tweeting, IM’ing, video chatting, sharing slide shows, and virtually bonding with people in other rooms, some halfway around the globe.
The points he makes – essentially an indictment of How We Travel Now – might not be the most obvious argument for why I’m suddenly blogging, social networking and tweeting my little heart out. (Which reminds me: follow me on Twitter! @postcardjunky). But the gap between the world he describes and the world I inhabit sent a little 20th-century shiver down my spine. Why shouldn’t I, too, have a place in the Twittosphere?
Travel bloggers were in the spotlight at major new media conferences—both at BlogWorldExpo in Las Vegas, where they convened a panel, and at SXSW Interactive in Austin, where Sheila Scarborough and Pam Mandel drew a standing-room-only crowd. Travel bloggers also saw the rise of a conference devoted entirely to their work: TBEX, short for Travel Blog Exchange, held in Chicago in July. Kim Mance and Debbie Dubrow presided over a group of more than 120 bloggers, whose energy and passion for travel was hard to contain in one room.
With my own wayward travel blog having tapered off months ago, I felt an acute sense of longing. Was I missing the boat? Was I totally, irreparably irrelevant as a writer? I mean, even more than before?
Admittedly, the World Hum piece at times seemed to miss the point. Much is made of the fact that travel bloggers are suddenly reaping the benefits of the old media world.
Travel bloggers and Tweeters this year lounged on Hawaiian beaches, traipsed across the Lido deck of cruise ships and explored Mexican villages at others’ expense like never before—experiences they chronicled on blogs and in Tweets.
Press junkets are, in at least one reporter’s opinion, not exactly the best way to bestow legitimacy on the new travel media world. Some might argue the opposite. (The New York Times caused a stir earlier this year by canning a columnist who violated their notoriously stringent ethical guidelines. Matt Kepnes, on the other hand, of Nomadic Matt fame, has a very honest and admirably sane take on accepting freebies.)
Sifting through all the digital information overload, though, I came to the logical conclusion that a fresh year demanded a fresh start. And that if I ultimately want to succeed in my (at times half-hearted) mission to change – however briefly, however slightly – the way people look at this big, complicated, marvelous and misunderstood continent I currently call home, I needed to first join the conversation.
So here’s my New Year’s resolution in 2010: to have something worth saying, to have someone to say it to. So that we might, as Lindberg put it in his T+L piece, be “clustered around the virtual hearth of the [web]—together and apart, in our own huge worlds.”