Taking out books from my university’s library is one of my favourite academic related activities. This is because the book check out machine is self-service and when I use it I feel like Dr Who inside the Tardis, pushing buttons and generally just being a cool, time travelling bad ass (minus the time travel).
A few weeks ago, my writing and editing lecturer scrawled a note on the bottom of one of my assignments suggesting Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux as a book I might enjoy. So, this past Monday I was even more excited to visit the library (nerd alert)than usual because not only would I get to use the cool self-service check out machine, but I was taking out a book from the Rhodes Library for reading pleasure as opposed to academic use for the first time my entire university career.
After finally tracking down the book, wedged in between heavy bound novels and travel guides, my eyes widened a bit with intimidation when I saw how thick Dark Star Safari is. Despite the somewhat intimidating length of the book, I checked it out and now it has taken up residence on my desk in amongst stacks of readings, almost finished mugs of tea and yet-to-be-completed to-do lists.
So far I’ve only read the first 20 pages but I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy it. Theroux, a journalist and novelist who lived and taught in Malawi for five years in the 60’s, travels across the African continent from Cairo to Cape Town. He documents is journey from country to country and his experience of the cultures, landscapes and people some of which he is revisiting after having taught there 40 odd years before.
Where I’m at, Theroux is in Egypt waiting for confirmation of his Sudanese visa. While he waits, he does some exploring and visits the Sphinx. Theroux has some interesting thoughts on the history of the Sphinx’s documentation. The quote which stuck out the most for me in this section, and since starting the book, is this:
“But photography’s spoiling of the visual pleasure of places is nothing compared to the way the Internet and our age of information have destroyed the pleasure of discovery in travel.”
This sentence was like a splash of ice-cold water to the face for me. I spend a lot of my time online scrolling through posts and pictures of exotic countries, artifacts and people. So I have a set up image in my mind of what I think they should look like and how i will feel when I experiece them in real life. Before reading Theroux’s thoughts, I had never thought about the way the Internet has affected the way I experience things.
Can it really make such a difference?
I had first hand experience of it earlier this year when I visited China. The Great Wall was one of my most anticipated stops on the trip as my dad had visited it eight years before and had said it was absolutely amazing. When I got to walk the wall for myself, I couldn’t help feeling that it was a lot less wide than I thought it would be. From the pictures I had seen in photos and online, I thought it would be a lot broader. Silly, I know, because the wall was still incredible and insanely long but it was just something I felt at the time. Now I know that I can blame those feelings on my own actions. I ruined the discovery of the Great Wall for myself by seeing images of it beforehand and constructing an unrealistic picture of it in my mind.
I would never be able to shut myself off from seeing pictures of places I’d like to travel before I get to see them but this idea of the ‘age of information’ ruining the discovery of travel is something interesting to keep in mind when exploring.
I may never experience the same feelings of awe that the first explorers felt when they came across new land but its crazy to think of how much something like the Internet can impact the way we experience life today.