Unplugged

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When I packed my bags to go to South America, on the top of my list was my cell phone and computer. Already the idea of going to a new country where I didn’t speak the language was daunting enough, but add to that the prospect of not being able to contact friends and family? For me that sounded impossible.

As I gained more travel experience, these pieces of technology have proven to be immensely useful in many different situations, such as being able to access an offline map on Google or send pictures to friends and family. However, I’ve also gained a new perspective about the society I’ve been raised in and how attached people have become to technology.

Having the opportunity to meet other travelers and people who either do not have access to the same technology I do or who grew up at a time when it was not common for everyone to carry around a cell phone in their pocket has made me aware my relative youth and ignorance when it comes to life without the internet.

I’m used to having information at my fingertips. If I need to know where a place is, how long it takes to get there, or other information, I simply pull up a map and everything I need to know is in front of me on the screen. Very quickly in Brazil, this plan I had of being able to access travel information fell apart very quickly.

When I would go online to look for buses or directions, the websites I would find told me that there were no buses going between two certain cities one day. However, when I went to the rodoviária, or bus station, there would be numerous buses available. Sometimes I would find a timetable of when the buses were supposed to leave, only to arrive at the station to discover that the times and prices were incorrect.

On a number of occasions, this was actually helpful, since usually the prices online were often more expensive than in reality. It did also lead to a number of close calls, such as the time when I checked the bus schedule online and found a bus was supposed to leave at 3:15 in the afternoon. I wanted to play it safe and arrive early, so I left the place I was staying at noon, took another bus and a short ferry to one of the bus stations close to Salvador, Bahia in Brazil, and when I arrived a little after 1pm I barely caught the last bus leaving for Itacaré that day at 1:15, not 3:15 in the afternoon.

Realizing that I couldn’t just rely on the internet to give me the information I needed about transportation, I learned the phrases necessary to ask at the bus station to figure out what times buses came and went and how much they cost. There were places when bus stops would be totally unmarked or be in a different location than shown on a map and I would have to ask locals in the area to figure out where I needed to go. The same went for grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience shops. Often it was cheaper to learn where the local street markets were taking place and wait to buy my groceries there, rather than go to a supermarket.

Talking with other travelers also gave me the chance to see how much the methods of travel have changed. When I first landed in Brazil, I still had a United States SIM card in my phone, which wasn’t set up to function in other countries. The airport had Wi-fi, but in order to access it you had to sign in using a Brazilian phone number. I ended up being stuck at the airport for almost four hours, trying to communicate with the people there that I needed to buy a Brazilian chip to put in my phone, so I could contact the people I was staying with in Brazil and let my family know I had arrived safely. Being in the position of not having any means to contact anyone was totally foreign to me, and yet many of the other travelers I met would smile when I told this story and say that this was exactly what travel used to be like. You never had a means to contact people when you arrived in a new place.

I personally cannot imagine traveling without my technological devices and having internet access on a regular basis. Internet is how I find places to stay, how I decide where to go next, and is still one of the primary sources of information about new places even though I have learned to access other information elsewhere.

The two extremes of the technology spectrum I have now experienced from everyone always having ready access to phones, computers, and the internet, to places where there is no internet connection and even finding and electric outlet is a challenge has given me a greater appreciation for access to information in general.

There are times when I become totally frustrated and fed up with technology, and I start to think that it would be better just to get rid of it all and go back to verbal and written communication. There are other times when I am immensely grateful for the connection technology allows; because of things like Facebook, WhatsApp, and other forms of online communication, I can stay in touch with the people I meet during my trip. There is the possibility for us to continue talking and share what is taking place in our lives instead of parting ways without a form of reconnecting.

This balance of technology, from needing to find other ways of acquiring information to being able to appreciate the communication over long distances, is something I have only found through traveling. There’s nothing like scarcity to bring about a greater awareness for something.

Being in situations where I have not been able to rely on technology has also given me greater confidence in my communication and creative problem-solving skills. Often the solution I’m looking for doesn’t quite happen, but something else works out that is just as good or sometimes better.

On one hand, technology and information at our fingertips allows for expansion of knowledge and flexibility, and on the other hand it can be paralyzing when you become so accustomed to technology that other options are neglected. Using resources is one thing, but becoming so dependent on something that it is impossible to function without it is unhealthy (unless of course it’s something like water or air!). Technology is a resource, and a very powerful one at that. It can be used in so many positive and beneficial ways, but sometimes it’s also good to unplug from the constant stream of data and take the opportunity to learn about other possibilities.   



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Ki Lindgren

A passionate writer and traveler, Ki Lindgren decided to leave behind the regular routine of steady employment to explore the world. Fueled by a desire to learn about new perspectives, meet people from other cultures, and share life stories, Ki’s writing is both a way to share experience and preserve memories.