How to Witness Travel Without Leaving Home: Option 1
A simple search of the word “travel” and Google displays this definition: to make a journey, typically of some length or abroad. If I wanted to visit California, I would have to find a means to physically transport myself from New York to Los Angeles to witness (and experience) that particular part of the world. With the introduction of mobile technology, however, that becomes only one option. I can now, sitting at my desk from New York, observe Los Angeles through the dozens of photo blogs and YouTube videos dedicated to travel in California. If I wanted to bear witness to any national landmarks, museums, music festivals, and riots—any sights or events that took place or are taking place in a different country chances are I could. Anyone can be an audience in bearing witness to travel through the lens of other travelers’ instantaneous (almost live) Facebook posts, Instagram photos and WordPress blogs. Yet, this idea seems to contradict the very nature of traveling. If we bear witness to travel as an audience where is our journey? Where do we go and what are we actually bearing witness to?
Quoting and reinterpreting from Douglas Rushkoff ‘s Program or Be Programmed, our engagement with and through the digital world and our digital tools tend to reduce the complexity of our real world. If we do not realize that what we view through digital and mobile technology are a bunch of combinations of zero’s and one’s we might run the risk of equating these oversimplified impressions with real knowledge and experience of the world. I want to use what he says above to explain that we must acknowledge that viewing an instantly posted or live picture of, for example, the Eiffel tower, even as or moments after someone is taking it, cannot be the same as witnessing it first-hand in the same physical space. The whole experience (of bearing witness) is reduced to an image.
As Rushkoff mentions, although for example, we can watch live feed of the oil from an underwater well leaking into the ocean, or a cell phone video of an activist getting murdered in the street by a dictator’s police, all of these events are “over there somewhere.” We are literally disconnected and distanced from everything that is happening. We still end up as a passive audiences that can only carry the hope of someday being able to experience sights and events in different parts of the world that we are “witnessing,” but are a distance from us. We can only hope to someday be the traveler who is immersing him or herself in a real world, not an abstract representation of it. Even with mobile technology, some of us remain “passive spectators of technology itself.” We remain physically at home, while we try to conceptualize ourselves elsewhere.
How to Witness Travel Without Leaving Home: Option 2
Yet, even those travelers who evoke on a physical journey abroad, while incessantly using mobile technology, never fully leave. They continue to experience sights and events through their mobile technology, paying more attention to capturing every moment to share with others rather than embracing the present to experience it for themselves. The act of witnessing different cuisines, landmarks, and cultures once again becomes reduced to an organized, digital package for others to witness first, and for you to re-witness later. It becomes more important to take a video, picture or blog about a sight or event that is happening to broadcast to others rather than immersing oneself in the experience of witnessing.
The act of witnessing is no longer valued in itself, but only as a tool for others to witness your witnessing. Since, of course, in the digital world, everyone must prove his or her presence, instead of focusing on new people and new experiences, the focus is still directed towards having those at home receive your traveling as a form of news. Douglass Rushkoff gives the example of Gina, a trendsetter, social leader and a creature of the moment, who instead of turning off her phone and enjoying herself, activates her camera and proceeds to take pictures of herself and her friends to instantly upload them to her Facebook page. While a traveler, like Gina, is sharing and proving his or her presence, the present although being viewed “at the same time” by others, is put on hold for oneself in the future.
Travelers then preserve moments to re-live later on, without quite ever living in them in real time. It is hard to engage in the witnessing of the changing of guards at the Vatican (as in my experience) if we are too busy not only holding mobile phones in front of eyes to capture the moment, but (if not live) thinking ahout the ways in which to crop and edit to post seconds after the act is finished. In this way, it is inevitable that the culture of witnessing through mobile technology as it relates to the experience of travel devalues the significant moments, putting them on hold for later, when we are too busy during trips capturing moments for others in the present. We can assess whether we enjoyed our journey only after we recall and live it through the viewing of our own posts on social media and photos in our IPhone libraries.
The mobile phone is the ultimate travel tool which is 69% of the time used for taking photos and 45% used for posting to social media. We do not bear witness to the whole experience to have stories about our total engagement to share and to remember (without the aid of technology). We trade sharing and storytelling for showing. Instead of sharing details of our trips, it becomes simpler to just show them. The excitement of coming home from a trip with stories to tell friends and family no longer exists, and there is no longer anything to even show when everything has already been seen. You never quite left, while virtual friends and families were on your mind, you were constantly on their newsfeeds being viewed live.
Luckily, there is always a third choice; there is always the option to opt out of both 1 and 2 above, to neither transcend space nor preserve time, and to leave home to fully bear witness to the real world around you.