In this blog post I am going to argue that our traveling behaviors are changing because of our everyday use and exposure to the technology of smartphones. Smartphones have become a great part of our personalities and everyday lives that it has transformed many of our habits and one of them is the was we travel anymore.
According to L. Hjorth and S. Pink article, “New visualities and the digital wayfarer: Reconceptualising camera phone photography and locative media,” people are using their smartphones in their everyday life to communicate at many levels. They conducted a study to “examine how second generation locative media and emerging camera phone practices are becoming entangled to create new visualities and socialities of place and place making.”
In their first section “A glance into the world of emplaced visuality” focuses on sample populations in Australia, Korea and Japan. These populations were selected because there is high every day mobile phone usage from almost everyone in the above countries, the authors remark “in 2013, Australia mobile internet subscriptions have now reached 22.1 million: basically one subscription for every person in the country.”
One of the study participants begins by saying that “we are no longer wandering around the world alone – that our shared experiences have made a kind of virtual fabric …. I want to see a thicker and richer document of life produced as a result of locative media…”
The participant, Barbara, admits to using the geo location on Instagram on a more frequent basis that not using it. She admits to liking that she can decide whether or not to share her geo location. In her case the geotag is a method of communicating place and when she found it irrelevant to share the place she had the option and freedom to switch that feature off. Location-based services (LBS) are a common feature in apps. Many people use them to check in museums, cafes, restaurants etc. The freedom of choosing when to do so is an extension of how we feel.
Another participant, in Seoul’s Schichon area, likes to check into her favorite coffee shop by clicking the app to notify others that she is there and at the same time she can talk to her friends while she is sitting there alone, far from being bored, talking to her friends through her mobile phone and the app taking and photos at the same time while sharing them with her network of friends. This participant was not feeling alone in the coffee shop because she was able to talk to her friends in real time and if any of those friends needed or wanted to meet with her they could see where she was through he app.
Another participant was meeting a friend in another part of town and was comminuting with her son by public transportation. When her friend texted her to see when she was arriving she and her son simply sent a selfie through Instagram to communicate that they were still on their way. Typing words to send an electronic message is not the only medium any more. With all the apps that exist out there one can send voice mails, pictures, gifs and emoticons.
The study’s results show that mobile apps in smartphones facilitate our life in many aspects and communication is just one of them as the study above has demonstrated.
In Novemeber of 2015, USA Today published an article on “An ‘App’ropriate Way to Travel.” The article lists the possible apps the author has used during his travels and the app functions range from where to find food like home cooked meals, where to find specific lodging to how to meet and talk to locals to learn about the location and even how to go on a date. I wonder ‘How many people used to think about going on dates’ when being a tourist as tourism was associated and practiced as a sight seeing, picture taking activity to escape reality in the past. Obviously, the apps and the mobile phone have expanded our horizons in what we think we may need during our vacations. All the apps available to travelers or that are made with the travel consumer in mind have managed to circle, tick off and to include every possible aspect of a traveler’s life and needs during his/her travels and even before they decide to travel for instance there are many search engines to do research and images available for the tourist/ traveler to learn more about the destination with out relying on books, guides and someone’s else’s expertise or opinion, even though many travelers still do or might get influenced from a close friends or relative’s opinion though word of mouth or social media.
The article “The Role of Smartphones in Mediating the Tourist Experience” by D. Wang, S. Park and D. Fesenmaier support that with the “wide information services that can be accessed anytime and from anywhere, the smartphone has the potential to significantly influence the touristic experience.” Not only do our smartphones have the ability to support thousands of applications they also have the ability to connect us to the internet, information services, social networking, navigation etc. The article states “smartphones can mediate both behavioral and psychological dimensions of the touristic experience by facilitating information search, information processing, and information sharing, by enabling a traveler to learn about travel opportunities and to get to know better a destination, and by sharing photos and other ‘social’ activities at any time during the trip.” So as smartphones are becoming a necessary part of our lives (as tourists) and play such an important role in our decision making the study was based on travel app ratings and reviews. They isolated reviews that had no valuable information and only rated the apps and their functions as “amazing” or “it sucks.” The study finds and names five scenarios the tourist experience may be influenced by smartphones. The fist one is called Good value system and it is when something unpredictable happens. For instance, it is hard to predict the weather, accidents or flight delays. When there are apps in place to give more information to the traveler, and access to knowledge and information then the traveler/tourist feels he gets “good value” because he/she can make adjustments to their trip. The second scenario, Visiting more places and having rich experiences, talks to the facts that he traveler/ tourist is able to dig deeper into research. The example given was “the traveler extended his or her road trip because the ‘Roadside America’ app lead to places I might never have experiences or heard.” In this case the traveler go to be pleasantly surprised by digital features that included “a little extra info” to enrich their experience that maybe a traditional map may not have included. The third scenario is called, A delightful trip and higher satisfaction, another way of keeping the tourist entertained while traveling. The example given was the “Air Traffic Control” app that allows flyers to listen to the conversation between the crew and the aviation control staff “and eases boredom.” The forth scenario is called Sharing happiness, showing off, and peace of mind. In this case some case of interaction exists such as meeting new people, sharing pictures, and feeling “that they are ahead of the game” as in the example of the “mouse wait” app, an app that tells you which Disney ride has the shorted wait. Lastly the fifth scenario is Inspiration for travel that talks about the aesthetic consumption part of the touristic experience. In this case the “American treasures” app was use to inspire the traveler to learn more about places he may have not thought of going. The article concludes that “these results clearly demonstrate that smartphones are an extremely powerful channel to communicate.”
The future of travel
It will be exciting to see what the future of travel will look like. The digital era has changed the way we think and see travel and the way we behave and plan our trips. It has changed many aspects. So what is in the future?
Mashable.com published an article that virtual reality (VR) is being tested in the tourism industry. It is still at the experimental stage and it is used to attract tourists to a destination. One such campaign is being piloted for destination: Las Vegas. Some claim that potentially the VR aspect may lower tourism and travel traffic in the future as people will choose to sit on their comfy sofas and enjoy places from their home. Some people including myself, think that that may never happen as people have been nomads and travelers, explorer for years. Technology is making life easier when traveling but that will not keep the tourist or the traveler home. A way in which VR may develop or be used in the future, besides for promotion, may be to allow immobile people to experience new places. Melbourne, Australia, has invented the remote control tourist, a tourist for hire that is being told what to do and see by others from remote locations. Will people stop traveling and using VR? I don’t think so, they may be used as alternative travel but it won’t replace travel, not anytime soon at least.