At the tender age of 30 (the new 20?), I’ve had the opportunity to travel more than generations prior could have ever dreamed (I’m two continents short of the full set). My parent’s generation, while definitively embracing the ability to travel, still lacked the speed, ease and affordability of travel options that exist today. Increasing globalization has opened up borders and options for travel that have never existed before.
However, could my generation be the peak of global travel?
As communication technologies become more ubiquitous and lifelike, we are starting to see a decreased need for individuals to travel the world. Even in the face of reduced travel costs and relaxed political regulation, it is often difficult to justify a trip when so many global interactions can be experienced from the comfort of your own desk. Unquestionably, there will always be a demand to see the sunset past the Eiffel tower with your own eyes, to smell the air at the Cape of Good Hope or to hear the echo off the inside of the Taj Mahal. People will always have a desire to explore, adventure and to see the world.
But what of more mundane travel? What of long business flights? What of lonely hotel rooms? What of expensive travel per diems?
I recently had the opportunity to attend a meeting in a Cisco Tele-presence room. While the experience wasn’t quite up to the promise of fooling me into standing to shake the client’s hand at the end, the technology was impressive and left very little lacking in the way of non-verbal communication (which, as you know, I went on a bit of a rant about recently). Was this experience as good as a face-to-face meeting? No. However, it provided a close enough approximation at a fraction of the cost. More importantly, the cost is steadily decreasing and the technology is rapidly improving (hell, we’ve almost caught up to Star Trek).
Yet what of the leisure traveler? Will there always be a demand for people who want to experience culture first hand? In a word (or four), yes, but decreasingly so.
Globalization, while bringing the world’s population closer together than ever before, has had a reverse effect on our need to explore the planet. Whereas previous generations had to travel to Japan (or the most exclusive, expensive restaurants) to sample sushi, our generation buys $8.99 lunch special bento boxes two doors down. Culture, food, music, art, sport, design… even people… have spread so rapidly and ubiquitously around the world that we no longer need to travel in order to experience other societies; we simply walk 10 blocks. If this trend continues, then soon we will live in an era where the planet is one big societal melting pot that speaks English and Mandarin (flies in renegade spaceships, lives as outlaws and runs from oppressive governments and crazed space-monster humans).
Google is not without blame for our increasingly sedentary lives either. The Web has afforded us near instantaneous access to a vast bank of knowledge and a platform for global communication. It used to be that to find out what the Blarney Stone tasted like, you’d have to get over to Cork and kiss it yourself. Now, one can read hundreds of in-depth reviews describing the texture, look, sounds, smells, tastes of the stone and likely even a recipe or two for someone’s Blarney Stone soup. If you think I’m exaggerating both the level of fidelity and the coverage of information that Google provides, why not take a brief trip to the Antarctic?
Me, I’m a bit of a puritan. I believe that to truly appreciate a culture, one must immerse themselves in it and experience it first-hand. However, not everyone is like me. Some people are happy with pictures of the Pyramids. Many argue that the best curry in the world exists around the corner from their place. Certain individuals may even prefer to program their treadmill to simulate the Great Wall instead of visiting it themselves.
However, to everyone else, I implore you:
Go out and see the world before it comes to you.