Rolf And The Twitter-While-You-Travel Controversy . . . or . . . Dear Rolf: How Can I Piss Off The Majority Of The Traveling Public?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A good old-fashioned travel controversy seems to have emerged while I was away. Given that these are far and few between, I’ll try to stoke the flames a bit and try to blow it out of proportion in true online media fashion.

It seems that travel writer/columnist Rolf Potts slammed the use of Twitter while traveling in his latest column, likening it to such mundane routine activities as watching “Dancing With the Stars” or eating Taco Bell (two activities that I can’t say are anywhere close to my normal routine, but I get his point), ordinary activities that your travels are supposed to be relieving you from. Rolf advises travelers to send a final tweet letting everyone know that they won’t be twittering for a while and to embrace the chance to disconnect and enjoy the “genuine connection to your immediate environment.”

That sound all fine and good, but apparently the few million or so traveling twitterers were a little rebuffed by this, flooding the twittersphere (whew, I’m running out of made up twitter nouns) with their angry responses and rushing to leave angry comments on Rolf’s column, far exceeding the length of his own piece. And on BootsnAll today, Jessica takes a look at the controversy that has emerged and throws her own hat in the ring with a 1600 word article defending the traveltwits (ok that’s the last one).

A few days after posting and about two dozen comments later, most in defense of Twitter, the brouhaha seemed to have died down until Rolf decided to reignite the flames, responding to a particularly lengthy comment that had been posted three days prior with this:

As a case in point, I’m not sure if I should comment on the content of soultravelers3’s posts, or the fact that (within a 27-hour window) she managed to write 1200 words of commentary on my 600-word column—all while “traveling” overseas! As they say in AA, denial is the surest sign of addiction (in this case, to the electronic umbilical cord).

On a recent trip to Washington I elected to stay at a local youth hostel because I’m a fan of the happy-go-lucky social atmosphere I’ve found in hostel lounges over the years. Imagine my bewilderment, then, when I walked into the hostel lobby to find literally 20 people tapping away on keyboards and keypads, ignoring each other. At a certain level, I’m sure those people were getting great travel encouragement and advice through their email or Facebook or blog or Twitter communities. But on another level the cocoon-like silence of that jam-packed hostel lounge was more than absurd—it was kind of sad.

Well, given that I discovered about all of this via Twitter, and given that I spent my recent trip not only using Twitter, but also e-mailing, Facebooking, and of course blogging, you’d think that I’d be firmly against Rolf, but I can’t quite bring myself to disagree with basically anything he wrote.

I hate the fact that every day I felt the nagging urge to get to an internet cafe to update the blog and upload pictures. I can’t say that there were any e-mails that were particularly time sensitive that I spent reading through. And there wasn’t much by way of Twitter that aided in my trip.

I agree with Rolf that one of the best parts about traveling is the opportunity to “process and ponder new experiences before you share them with others” and to enjoy the anonymity that comes with being away from your normal world. And if I walked into a hostel lobby to find everyone typing away, ignoring each other, I’d probably have the same urge to, as Rolf suggests, tell everyone to “take the Red Pill” when traveling and leave technology behind.

But at the same time, without the internet I wouldn’t have been able to find the best hostel to book after I had to leave mine, or I wouldn’t have been able to connect with the Dubliners that I did on Facebook who were able to show me some of their favorite insider spots around town. I would’ve had to shell out a fistful of Euro instead of crashing at someone’s place via couchSurfing when I went to Cork. Finally, I wouldn’t have been able to fit in at least a little time doing one of the things that I love most in this world, traveling or at home, which is working on this site.

Like everything in life, there’s a happy medium, and technology while traveling is no different. Like alcohol, your dog, or your obsession with 80’s music, just make sure you control it and not the other way around, otherwise you’re looking at a pretty miserable experience with too much Depeche Mode rattling around in your head.

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