Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taking Tech on the Road

Vacations used to mean leaving a lot of normal entertainment on the road. Advances in technology have, yet again, changed the very nature of traveling.

Traveling by car used to mean a never-ending series of "spot the license plates" or "find the letters of the alphabet."

Flying used to mean reading lots of books or having to watch whatever was on the small screen at the front of the section.

Boy, have those days disappeared.

Recent long-haul flights have indicated that while in-flight entertainment systems now give every person control over his or her viewing, many people are more comfortable bringing their own entertainment.

My unscientific eyeballing of the airline seats indicates that easily 50 percent of the passengers bring their own entertainment, whether that be in the form of a laptop computer and DVDs or a tablet with movies on it.

Similar things are happening to families on car trips. I bemoaned the installation of video screens in the back seats of cars so that the kids could watch movies while traveling. To me, car rides were endless hours of counting license plates from other states and other hugely boring travel games.

By giving car passengers the ability to have fun during the long hours in a car seems somehow humane to both the parents and the children. Ultimately, the same question of "Are we there yet?" will be asked. Nowadays, even the GPS being used to navigate will give the kids the ability to answer the question themselves.

Once you are at your destination, the technology used during the trip can also be turned to good use. Not only can having Internet access help you find out where to go and what to see, it can find you discounts, help you find out when something is open, and even know whether to carry an umbrella or not.

And for the downtimes in a hotel — or even a campsite — Internet access lets you select your entertainment such as watching a movie, updating your Facebook account or spending an evening watching YouTube.

I do miss the offline activities that we used to have in cars and in airplanes. Specifically, while driving and there wasn't much to do, we actually looked out the windows and saw things like mountains and rivers. We also learned how to read a map and figure out how far it was until the next rest stop. Oh, and how to find our way back to where we wanted to go when we were lost.

Now I find that in our cars and our hotel rooms, we typically find a good challenge in ensuring all of our electronic gadgets are plugged in. It's amazing how many devices even a small family can bring with them, the associated adapters and chargers and the lack of electrical outlets.

But with the changing world of travel, I much prefer traveling with all of my electronic gadgets. But I also appreciate the times I go "off the grid" even more when I go where I just don't have access at all. It makes the s'mores around the campfire even tastier.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 18 April 2012.