It’s my first time travelling in Europe alone and I have no idea what to expect. A sense of anxiousness builds inside me as I think about all that can go wrong. Where do I find bus 119 to go to the airport from the Dejvicka stop? What if I miss my flight? How do I find the bus to go to the metro station in Barcelona? As all these questions pop into my head, yet the comfort of knowing I have my smartphone with me continuously calms me down. Not only can I turn on my data if need be, but all the various social media tools my friends and I both have to contact each other are endless – and will most likely ensure a safe arrival.
I arrive in Barcelona, and assume the airport has Wi-Fi. It doesn’t. Nor is my data working when I turn it on. I have no idea how I am supposed to contact my friends telling them I’ve landed early, and no way of confirming our previously determined meeting spot. I tell myself, “This is what being abroad is about. I have to learn how to travel independently and figure out how to get around when unexpected complications arise”. I follow my friends’ previous directions to get on the aerobus and meet them at a certain metro stop. Everything is going smoothly, but I cannot get the concern out of my head as to if I did something wrong, or if I missed the stop completely. Trying to calm myself down I get off the last stop of the aerobus and immediately walk into a McDonalds, anxiously hoping they have Wi-Fi to connect to. Luckily, they do and I Facebook message my friends saying I am at the metro stop and will meet them at the top of the stairs. Within seconds they respond saying they are on their way.
Clearly, the reliance on Wi-Fi – and social media apps that require Wi-Fi – today is ubiquitous. As discussed in class last week, Wi-Fi is like a drug. When you don’t have it you go through withdrawal, and when you do have it you are irrevocably hooked on it. It is astonishing to think of how people contacted each other when Wi-Fi didn’t exist, or when a smartphone hadn’t been created yet – which was not that long ago. In support, socialmediatoday.com discusses how travel is severely impacted by social media. Social media affects people being in the present as users are more concerned with Instagramming a picture and getting likes instead of admiring what is in front of them with their own eyes. Additionally, social media means 1. You are never alone, 2. There is an immense amount of filtering on the quality and quantity of what is posted, 3. A fear of missing out (FOMO) develops in places you are not, and 4. Brands – such as hostels and rental owners – are benefitting immensely.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Jacob Munk-Stander
Although the eventual Wi-Fi allowed me to get in contact with my friends and feel more confident in a city I had never been to before, I truly felt the emotional and physical effect it has on my life. When I had no way of getting in contact with my friends, my body physically started to sweat out of nervousness and anxiety. Emotionally, I kept thinking of worse case scenarios of what could go wrong, which was not beneficial whatsoever for my mental state. Although social media tools and apps help people connect with one another, it has become so relied on today that it is hard for people to accept that getting lost and stressed is part of the abroad process, and I believe this is a part of traveling that is crucial for developing one’s identity and character. You really learn a lot about yourself when you are forced into uncomfortable situations and have to find a way to figure them out. The constant reliance on Wi-Fi and social media allows people to hide behind a screen and not push themselves in ways they should be challenged.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user David Reber