We’re always in such a rush with the Internet. It gets us everywhere much quicker than when we had to make an effort in the pre-click age. Usually we no longer bother going there once we have found it online. We like it to come to us. Movies, shopping, music, other countries and pub quiz answers. We’re perfectly happy just looking at it all on a big screen powered by a small gadget.
But then along comes a truly disruptive technology. The family holiday, or the romantic weekend break, the gap year, the sabbatical, the overseas business trip – the temporary halt to leading a life of comfortable sedentary predictability. We have to move our limbs beyond the confines of our fitness app and get on a plane, a bus or a train and go somewhere new.
The first time I flew to a different country on a business trip was to Helsinki in Finland. I was thrilled to fly to a country I knew nothing about because nobody I knew had ever been there. I discovered that it never really got light in the day, that the Finns do actually eat reindeer and enjoy a shot of vodka in the plane prior to take-off as the wings are being de-iced.
If I flew to Helsinki now, I would know all that before I left home. Worse still, if I found the Finns no longer enjoyed a spot of Rudolph for lunch I would be tempted to lodge a complaint on the misery guts consumer whingeing site that always listens to me because I do it so often I’ve earned a five-star rating.
We don’t discover anymore, we box tick. We should stay at home and Street View it all because we can cover more ground.
Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned fun of not knowing and not planning, of getting horribly lost and reveling in it? Of being able to enjoy somewhere which is utterly horrific but entirely wonderful because you never had an expectation? We’re not allowed to enjoy it because we find it so difficult to disagree with 187 online helpfulists who thought it was uber.
Nowadays, as soon as we leave our comfort zones, which for many of us is about 20 metres from our homes, the breathlessness begins and we desperately search for help from the internet. The further we go, the more needy we become. We start with Google Maps but as the names get less familiar we inevitably end up begging at the gates of mass unfiltered online opinion, Trip Advisor.
Twenty years ago, maybe even ten years ago, we went on holiday armed only with a Lonely Planet guide, some strong maternal advice, sunblock and lots of hope and excitement. The great thing about the Lonely Planet was that it was at least three years since the lucky LP editor had last visited. “I wonder if the place is still the same” was always part of the excitement. Invariably it wasn’t, but it really didn’t matter because we all understood that quite a lot can happen in three years and the greater the difference, the better the story back home.
And then along came the Internet and changed the world.
Suddenly, no matter where we are, the Trip Advisory Board has got there first and told us what to think. These crowd-sourced straight shooters are so helpfully keen to tell us all exactly how the place they are currently sitting in failed to match up to their expectation. I often wonder whether they spent their time when they were there experiencing it or just reporting on it.
But the saddest part of all of this is that I just cannot help myself. I need to see what’s being said. I will go onto a site and think “now for the truth” as I head towards the reviews. I cling onto every word of Birmingham Bill’s thorough review of the best restaurants in the area because he was here only two weeks ago and must be right. So now we have some serious expectations because the reviews are so real time and Bill is a real person who sees it just like we real people do.
Problem is I have never met Bill and I have no idea if we like the same stuff. Well now I know, and we don’t.
And then I wonder ‘if I’m not like Bill then whose opinion do I trust?’ and I have absolutely no idea. Who writes these things? Do I have anything in common with the Review Army? Have I ever got back from a hotel, restaurant, concert, holiday, or any other experience and vented online to recommend or rubbish my experience? No. Never.
What a funny world we live in. We barely talk to our neighbors but we happily entrust much of our lives to people we will never meet. Maybe they are the neighbors?
Our beautiful Internet. Early days.