It is hard to believe that 10 years ago, most of us were cheerily tapping away at Blackberry Curves while the more technologically adventurous were entering into the era of mobile location, with the Nokia N95, one of the first phones to have a global positioning system.
With the advent of the iPhone, format, user experience, and consumption were undoubtedly changed forever, which in turn changed the way we travel.
First, the ability to have location on your phone changed navigation and getting around a city. It is hard to believe we had to consult paper maps when today we are guided by the glowing blue dot through unfamiliar neighborhoods in new cities.
A software update in January 2008 allowed the first iPhone to use cell tower and Wi-Fi network locations, despite lacking GPS hardware. With this, the iPhone also launched the ability to have better, location-aware recommendations as we moved around, highlighting interesting to-dos and points of interest. In fact, the ability to have an actually navigable mobile web and serviceable browser opened up more on-the-fly color and context while traveling a city.
Business Travelers Could FaceTime With the Family
For business travelers seeking an intimate connection to home, the advent of FaceTime on the phone took the grainy Skype sessions into the real world, and created a new level of intimacy while abroad. The voice on the other line suddenly came alive with facial gestures, emotion and immediacy, as if they were in the other room.
The hardware and evolving software on the iPhone also removed friction for travelers in immeasurable ways. In July 2008, with the launch of the app store, our trips were also better organized through the colorful array of useful programs to help us organize ourselves, use email and better conduct business, as well as check in for flights and eliminate the need to visit any check-in counters when moving from place to place.
As I highlighted in a recent column, the world of mobile applications like Foursquare also introduced us to recommendations, context and color from our friends that had visited places before us. One could leave a tip at a tea house in Hong Kong, to have it discovered by a friend months later.
Their experience was subtly boosted via a solid recommendation on a dish or a secret cocktail. Of course, over time, these types of recommendations get saturated and turn into a double-edged sword, playing us back more of the same, and reinforcing homogeny.
Photography, Including Selfies
Of course, one can’t discuss the iPhone without talking about photography and bringing a level of picture quality to everyday occurrences. As someone smart once said, “the best camera is the one with you.”
With the rise of Instagram coupled with mobile phones, travel and how it is documented have changed significantly for the good with a huge array of beautiful photos tagged to every square inch of the earth. It also changed for the bad, as it seems like public image making and social projection have become more important than depth of experience for many. Personal brands get built atop an aggregation of far-flung experiences, and airport lounge, champagne selfies.
Depleted Attention Spans
There is also another dark side wrought by the iPhone with the distraction and fragmentation of the attention span. Notifications causing dopamine hits, and applications designed to lure us back in through imperceptible cues that tickle certain points of our brain.
It is no longer enough to sit out in a cafe watching the world pass, or to day dream in a quiet park. The iPhone beckons us whenever we have an idle moment, forcing us to miss some of the things that make travel, particularly solo travel, so beautiful.
One can, of course, negate this by being mindful of it. Ditching the phone for an afternoon and allowing oneself to move and meander in an analog way, and seeing the world more richly because of it or bringing a novel set in your city to numb the need for notifications, and allowing the mind to settle into a place.