A close friend loves to watch “virtual walking tours” on YouTube. 4k visuals and natural sounds are stimulating without requiring the same attention as movies, traditional TV, or sports. There’s no narrative, just high-definition video moving steadily through iconic landmarks. Locals and tourists often stare at the camera, begging the question: how awkward does that 4k camera harness look? From a quiet living room in the United States, a small group of friends can easily converse over the walking tour and pause to examine street art or an exciting passerby at will.
Tons of articles focus on the “metaverse” and our collective journey to a digital reality. However, the metaverse will not lead to a paradigm shift in human behavior; this is a maturation and continuation of how technology already impacts lives and global collective consciousness.
Regardless of the virtual spaces available to us today (many of which currently lack legs), these digital “experiences” will become harder and harder to refuse. The same technologists who gave us Farmville and other digitally addicting 2D experiences are turning their attention to the metaverse. The metaverse will change tourism, and my friend’s enjoyment of virtual walking tours gives an inclining as to why.
Most people who watch virtual walking tours never travel to these locations. Instead, viewers fill the desire to travel with a partial understanding of places that (at least at the moment) they can’t experience. The collective enjoyment of virtual walking tours points to our comfort behind screens and the belief that these visuals presented are indicative of real life.
So let's ask what sounds like a stupid question: If virtual experiences become increasingly realistic, why should we travel the physical world?
Virtual walking tours simply cut out the less desirable parts of traveling abroad and give us what we really came for scenic views and an escape from the norm (even if only for the length of that YouTuber’s ‘Day in the Life’ weekly vlog update).
Within the decade, we’ll have the option to sit in a virtual space like the Pantheon amongst friends and family. Participants may pay for virtual tourism. But, perhaps it won’t be precisely the Pantheon. Selling the rights to recreate and monetize a Roman temple in a digital space sounds complex. But, if the general population can access reasonable resolution “metaverse” experiences from their living room (without strangers, sweating from the midday Italian sun, and litter), why should they travel? We asked WiFi Artists what will keep them traveling the world, and their answers fell neatly into three topics that we’ll explore a bit today: primary experience, connections, and lessons.
Primary Experience: Most experience comes to us filtered via algorithms, thought leaders, and anecdotes from friends (academics call this “secondary experience”). The COVID-19 pandemic cemented our habits online and made us believe that internet representations are accurate to real life. Savvy internet users understand that context is often an afterthought online and hard to represent even by those with good intentions. Even so, it’s easy to have our mood altered (often negatively) by scenes and incomplete internet content.
Part of what WiFi Artists appreciate about our travels is the totality of the journey. Not only did we pose in front of Machu Picchu, but we took the roughly 1,600 steps up from Agua Calientes to reach that moment. Experiencing the process firsthand gives context that even great storytellers can’t entirely communicate via blogs, vlogs, and social media. There are six universal emotions: fear, disgust, anger, sadness, happiness, and surprise. The content we consume (whether on Instagram or major news outlets) attempts to evoke these emotions as often as possible. Primary experience, obtained only by being personally subject to a process or event, allows for a broader range of emotions. Traveling involves some or all of these universal emotions, but in more manageable amounts than we receive online. The nuance of what we experience in travel can be challenging to describe but is unquestionably beautiful.
While the internet can enable and sustain lasting relationships, it is an (often limiting) point of interaction. After making initial connections, moving relationships into physical spaces substantially deepens ties.
The people we meet while traveling help challenge our assumptions, open our minds, and empower us to think based on primary experience. Global citizens and locals often surprise us with their stories, interests, and backgrounds. Joining them for meals, cultural events, and exploration makes meaningful memories and helps multiply our connections.
People in our home countries have the potential to surprise us as well, but traveling forces us to interact with more people. Without the comfort of a traditional home and private social network, digital nomads eagerly make new connections. Whether temporary or life-long, human connection is a powerful reason to travel. Not all connections last. Lives come together and push apart as our journeys continue. Endings can be healthy, especially when we appreciate the new connection and are truly present for the shared moments. Luckily, when we want to passively carry on connections from afar, the internet has the necessary tools to maintain relationships from around the world.
Lessons: Lessons take many forms during periods of travel and rest. Connections and experiences offer us lessons. Some travelers seek lessons, and others stumble upon them. A level of self-awareness, openness, and observation is required to receive the lessons of travel.
Taking time to journal, reflect, and discuss one’s experience clarifies lessons. The diverse connections made while traveling help solidify different lessons. Profound lessons change how we behave. Travelers demonstrate that change by thinking and acting differently under pressure.
Traveling and exploring new spaces is not a simple endeavor, at least not all the time. Historically and even now, travel is intrinsically tricky, occasionally leaving us feeling “out of our element.” However, digital nomad collectives like WiFi Artists simplify the costs and planning required while empowering nomads to focus on human connection and experiences. Meaningful events in life require a bit of discomfort and risk. Travel's positive stress (eustress) outweighs negative stress (distress). Fearing discomfort is normal. Humans get “butterflies in our stomachs” or a sense of anticipation that feels like dread as our immune system tries to cope. WiFi Artists embrace those slight feelings of discomfort, knowing that we can solve problems and make the best of stressful situations.
If you’re eager to see the world in 3D today, drop us an application. We’d love to chat about your background and what you can bring to the group. Cheers to the future.