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Think for a moment. When was the last time you didn’t have internet access right at your fingertips? Was it a recent flight? A weekend getaway in the mountains? Travel to a far-off land?
In 2015, it’s hard to come up with these sort of scenarios. These rare times when we’re no longer directly connected to the internet by either Wifi or 4G.
I’ve been pondering and documenting the impact and consequences of this connected-ness for the past few years as I’ve worked on a project in one of the least connected places in the world, Myanmar (Burma).
When I first arrived in 2011, Wifi was like something out of a book of fairy tales. Something you had heard of, but couldn’t possibly be real. The few internet cafes around wouldn’t have it, instead needing you to plug a network cable directly in to your laptop. To put that in perspective, it’s rare for a laptop to even have one of those Ethernet ports these days.
And the Internet itself? Crazy slow.
Mobile phones? Until a year ago, the mobile penetration rate was less than 1%. SIM cards cost $250 each.
So other than stopping in to the Internet cafe once a week to check my e-mail and prove to my family I was still alive, it was a time of essentially forced disconnection…
And it was awesome.
I even traveled to Myanmar (Burma) for a month one time just to be disconnected. When it’s all said and done, I’ve never dived as deep into a country as I have this one.
In 2015, the landscape is different. It’s hardly comparable to the West, but instead it’s maybe worse. Wifi is available at most guesthouses, though the speeds are frustratingly slow… like sometimes trying for an hour to get your Facebook feed to refresh.
And mobile phone service, once reserved only for the wealthy few, is now accessible by the masses thanks to cheap SIM cards and expanding coverage across the country.
So last night, when I was watching an incredible sunset over the plains of Bagan , this tie we have to connected technology came front and center. I looked down and a girl was looking at photos of the sunset on her iPhone. If she tilted her head up 30 degrees, she could be witnessing the magic with her own eyes instead.
And I was hardly immune to the pull. As mobile coverage here is spotty at best, being high up on a temple gets me a rare few bars of connection.
So I pulled out my phone and checked my email and sent a photo. I was waiting for the extra awesome light after the sun dipped down over the horizon anyways…
But as I remember what things were like here a few years ago, where forced disconnection was essentially the price of admission for coming, I can’t help but look back with fond memories.
Without the pull of constant connected-ness, I was more present. I was breathing this place in, in a way that is more difficult to do now.
And as I see the throngs of travelers staring down at the bright rectangle in their hand when the world is right in front of them, I sometimes wonder if we’re still doing it for ourselves, or just for our social media feeds.
How has technology distracted you from your travel experience? Let us know your story in the comments below.