I can remember being seized by panic last spring when I was stuck at Roma Termini, the central train station in Rome, without signal to access the Internet or Google maps to find our hotel. My mother and I had planned to take public transport from the airport to our hotel and I had taken screenshots of our directions. However, when we couldn’t find the bus station, we were convinced to take the airport shuttle though we weren’t totally sure what to do once it dropped us off. It was late, we were exhausted, and I was desperately trying to find signal to solve our problems. My mother, however, being the resourceful and competent woman she is, tried actually asking people for help. She ended up finding a kind Brazilian family who were also new to the city to help us figure out the subway system. I almost never ask for directions, even in the States, probably because I’m too shy and because I believe that I can figure things out fine with my phone. However, after this incident, I began to see the limitations of this mentality and the way our behaviors can be distorted by media. Now in Shanghai, I try to limit my phone usage to experience things in a new way.
In the time of Travel 2.0, we rely on the Internet for information and navigation as well as social media for inspiration and preservation. Since spending the semester in Prague, I realized that what we see on Instagram or Snapchat is never the full depiction of someone’s experience. It seemed to me that everything I and others posted felt staged and curated as if we were “doing it for the snap/insta” instead of doing it for ourselves. I felt that seeing photos of people’s travels and good times also made me insecure about my own experiences. Was I having as much fun as everyone else? Was I taking full advantage of my time abroad if I wasn’t flying out to a different country every weekend?
Over the summer, I felt like a millennial hermit, posting less frequently on Instagram and Snapchat than I ever did before. I tried to use my phone less and less though I think my embrace of the analogue was spurred by the return of my film photos taken abroad. At some point, I got tired of carrying my DSLR and opted for a disposable camera, forcing me to take 25 meaningful pictures instead of 250 repeats. They felt more authentic since they were unaltered and taken for my eyes only. They weren’t perfect but I didn’t have to worry about sharing them with anyone else. I wanted to feel that way in Shanghai.
Since being here, I’ve been more conscious of my cell phone and social media usage. The limits of the Great Firewall make me rely less on Google Maps and more on my senses. Though I still use my phone for Pleco (the best English-Chinese dictionary) I rarely use any of the other popular Chinese apps. Without a bank account and therefore no food delivery apps or digital money wallets, I pay with everything in cash though it’s strange to think of cash as analogue. I rarely bring my DSLR, preferring to bring my film camera if I bring anything at all and I’ve started reading books again to cut down on screen time. I feel that integrating these analogue elements into my everyday life allows me to experience things more sincerely and organically. It’s refreshing to live in the moment instead of worrying about sharing it. It’s taken a while but it’s nice to eat a meal without taking a quick snap.