By Drew Grossman
The life of a travel writer is appealing to me. Moving about the country and the world, sampling the best of food, culture and music. The freedom to insert myself into the story and tell of my experiences. The ability to share my thoughts about the world.
I wrote my first travel piece this week. Pierre, South Dakota.
Now this is not a diatribe that blasts South Dakota’s capital city. I have no beef with the City on the River (it turns out people in Pierre love the Missouri River). The problem with my inaugural piece of travel writing is that I have never been to Pierre. Or South Dakota for that matter. I have never seen the glory of the Missouri River. The policy of the travel Web site that I wrote for was as follows: research the assigned city online and write an article giving tourists an idea of what it would be like to visit that city. I wrote about monuments and museums that I have never seen. I recommended diving into pristine waters that I have never touched.While I wrote, I came to the realization that it is very possible that the information I was using may not be first-hand documentation either. What if the writer of one of my source sites used the same technique I was using? What if none of these writers had ever been to Pierre?
The Web provides wonderful avenues of connectivity between people and information. But it has become an excuse for us to stop physically exploring the world around us.
I have decided to stop writing for this travel Web site and I feel good about the decision. But that alone is not enough to right the wrongs of a web of information based largely on second-hand information. This is how I feel about the Web and these are the effects that I think the Web has had on me:
A cyborg is a person whose functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device (I looked this up online for conformation). The Web has created a generation of cyborgs.
Do you know all 50 states? Of course you do, but you can only get 49 when you try and list them on Sporcle. Just look up that last one in another window. Oh right! Wyoming. You knew that. Can you give someone directions to your house? Of course you can, you grew up in the area and have been driving around there for years. Better look up the directions just to be sure. Need help finding a restaurant? Yelp. In the fast-paced world we live in, we rely on the Web for simple answers to what used to be complex questions. We are dependent on the information contained on the World Wide Web. What’s the difference between not remembering and not knowing? Or the difference between knowing and not knowing? Either way the information is right at your finger tips, only a Google search away.
This process has also created a generation of people who are more concerned with speed than we are with truth. However, this lack of concern is not derived from the laziness that our parent’s generation most often blame it on. It comes from the absolute knowledge that there is an infinite amount of information out there and available on every topic imaginable. We can find an endless amount of contradicting theories and studies on any topic. You can both prove and disprove global warming with information found on the Web. There are contradicting maps, there are photos that are likely edited and distorted, there are even obituaries published online for people who are still alive. We have become accustomed to not truly believing much of what we see, but very much reliant on the ability to quickly find what we’re looking for.
Is this good for us? I don’t really know. Are we dependent upon mechanical and electronic devices to function? I think so, but let me look it up real quick.
I have since resisted the urge to write about places that I have never been to. There is no shortage of information available on the Web for every place from Pierre, South Dakota to Paris, France. I think I’ll just go there for myself instead.