Medium Response #5: Study Abroad & Traveling
COMS490 Sp16

Should we ditch our devices when we travel?

Professor Robert Huesca’s commentary on how “Facebook can ruin study abroad” opens up discussion into the limits of technology usage in study abroad programs, yet the discussion can also delve into any traveling situation. The problem or distraction of social media is a common complaint for many scenarios (partner phubbing, classroom usage, and now study abroad).

Instead of immersing oneself in the culture, students are said to check Facebook and message with their friends from their home country.

As with Internet and entertainment access, however, these new communication tools come at a cost not only to cross-cultural immersion but also, and more important, to the personal growth at the heart of international education. — Professor Robert Huesca

Although I agree that observing and immersing oneself into the culture is better than checking some “likes” on Facebook, it isn’t so easy to just ditch our devices, even when we are abroad. As Rainie and Wellmen wrote in their book on networked culture in the United States, there are three revolutions that have transformed American culture (with a fourth one emerging) and these revolutions all point to the increase and steady use of technology in everyday life.

So maybe we need a balance of technology usage? Yes. We need this in many facets of life. But then comes wearable technology to create more nuances in our tech usage. We also have the “what if” situations that make us never want to ditch our technology. What if I need to call my parents? What if I get lost? What if I can’t understand the language? What if I absolutely have to take a picture of this? The last one might not seem as important, but we live in a very visual time where taking pictures is commonplace and most of us use our phones for taking those pictures.

Ultimately, I think ditching devices while traveling is challenging. Even when I go on airplanes for long haul flights, almost all planes have touch screens for each passenger — instead of reading one of the many good books I brought with me I put on an episode of Friends — then the new Hunger Games movie — then I realize you can play games on the touch screen — and then I realize I can chat with other passengers on it. By the time I do all this — the flight is over. We are surrounded with technology and so ditching tech is going to be a lot harder than it seems.

I think integrating tech into our travel in meaningful and useful ways is something worth considering. Can there be technology that helps us feel more connected with the culture? Can we use it in a way that bridges communication? Google’s translation services is one example of how technology can potentially help. Can we create a social media platform to help bridge intercultural ties and make us more engaged in physically being in another place?

I’m hoping that we can research solutions and develop tools that can potentially increase the usage of tech to a more meaningful level. Maybe we just need an app that reminds us every so often to look up —