07.18.12

On modern travel as consumption and its digital opposite.

Amherst professor Ilan Stavans laments the state of modern tourism, fearing that we're missing the point.

Modern tourism does not promise transformation but rather the possibility of leaving home and coming back without any significant change or challenge. Tourists may enjoy the visit only because it is short. The memory of it, the retelling, will always be better. Whereas travel is about the unexpected, about giving oneself over to disorientation, tourism is safe, controlled and predetermined. We take a vacation, not so much to discover a new landscape, but to find respite from our current one, an antidote to routine.

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Our wandering is meant to lead back toward ourselves. This is the paradox: we set out on adventures to gain deeper access to ourselves; we travel to transcend our own limitations. Travel should be an art through which our restlessness finds expression. We must bring back the idea of travel as a search.

Isn't this the problem with rail shooters like Call of Duty? They are about consumption of a goal, not open-ended discovery. That's what makes MineCraft and Journey so powerful -- they allow us to reclaim the spirit of travel our wallets may not afford.