Don’t Worry, Pico Iyer

September 20, 2017


Sitting on a bus from Heathrow to Oxford I tried to recollect as many famous Oxonians as I could. And there were so many that sprung up. From heads of states to noble laureates, from media moguls to explorers and anthropologists and Pico Iyer, too! The British-born travel writer of Indian origin. I chanced upon his book The Lady and the Monk in my final school year and since then (in the last two and half decades, that is) have spent a fair share of time and money on his writings. I’ve unplugged with his travel stories, I’ve experienced far-flung places (before the internet era) through his essays, kept a mental catalog of unusual airports upon his advice and even ruminated on the art of stillness! I guess that’s why I was so disappointed with his recent article; There’s More to Travel than your Instagram Feed in the CNtraveler’s 30th-anniversary edition.

In the article Pico Iyer worries about travel becoming more of a form of consumerism. He fears people will skim places, collect them and not aim for profound experiences. For example, seeing Japan through the Ramen joints and not going much further. He worries that this skimming will leave us all just as provincial as before (travel). I found the article pretty shallow and snarky.

Here’s my reply to his worries:

First, to assume people are traveling only to the extent of posting on Instagram is a sweeping remark. If there is any place at all to evaluate the depth of an individual’s travel, it surely isn’t Instagram! Instagram by design is a visual platform created to share moments for fellow Instagrammers to skim and discover. Whether the shared moment was deep or shallow is very personal and can’t be judged by an observer. Moreover, deep and shallow are experiences about another. Instagram posts often serve as a teaser or headline for something more significant, something more profound. Every tile (Instagram post) is a piece of a bigger story – could be a life story or a brand story. For sure, there is more to travel than Instagram! Finding travel trends to be superficial in general and particularly on Instagram, is like being disappointed at the lack of depth in a hotel’s swimming pool! To fathom depth you have to measure an ocean. Similarly, to find depth in travel, you have to read people’s travel blogs, travel books or essays where the medium supports the sharing of deeper experiences. Photo essays and social media platforms designed for scanning and skimming won’t reveal depth.

Second, there are so many global trends that forebode danger to our planet and to humanity: terrorism, climate change, nuclear warheads, super intelligence, water scarcity, natural disasters to name a few. We should be worrying about the impending dangers that threaten our existence. In the scope of all the big issues looming over us, traveling at a superficial level doesn’t invoke worry in me.

Who knows, after all, traveling in-depth could leave one narrow-minded and travel at a superficial level could impel some others to be broad-minded.

We should be lending our lives to making the world/individuals better than we found it/them. In the end, when our vices and virtues are weighed to decide if we walk through pearly gates or sent to the dungeons of hell, the depth of our travels won’t be a deciding point, I’m sure.

With that in perspective, to each his/her own.

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