I was driving past a community park near my house on my way back home from work. On the crooked walking track were a bunch of people in their colourful tracksuits, running for their lives. After my usual attack of cogitation on why I’m not one of those people, I wondered if my ancestors who had to travel miles on their feet to get from one place to another would burst into fits when they find out that years after their time, there would be a people who would take out time from their twenty-four-hour daily routine to step out of the house, go to a designated area, and well…walk.
When we talk of evolution, we think of the pop culture ape-to-man poster that’s been force-fed to us since we held on to our science books (read: internet-equipped computers). If Darwin were alive, he would patently notice the hunching figure we’ve placed on the far right of the sequence, making it ape to man with a cellphone. Now this changes everything. The modern-day confirms that we can’t restrict evolution to bodily changes – our lifestyles, our approaches, and our ways have changed tellingly, and that is far more substantive today than anything else.
This year, I travelled to four countries, and while it was an absolutely phenomenal experience, I’m agitated because I haven’t been able to post a reel for the last two. Somehow, it doesn’t quite register in my head that I took those trips. Homo erectus, the earliest humans to live, used to travel foraging for food, or to seek refuge from lava, or when boulders fell on their houses. I may not be able to look them in the eyes in a museum.
Trade followed that, new routes were discovered, humans started travelling for exploration, resourceful lands were colonized, ships cruised, rails traversed, and the Industrial Revolution amplified it further to the skies (pun intended). At this point, I may not even have to visit Sri Lanka with the kind of intrigue that drove my forefathers; Irfan Junejo gives me quite a comprehensive digital experience in my living room only. Okay, while this may be an exaggeration since we all want to run away from our nine-to-five monotony, you can’t disagree that at this point, there’s not much on the ground that man has set foot on and we haven’t seen. What’s next? Popping over places that don’t exist – high fives augmented reality!
The year was 1400 when Europe passed legislation mandating inns to keep guest registries, and in 1758, the first travel agency took root. 1946 marked the first rent-a-car, and in 1996, Microsoft rolled out Expedia. 2005 was when Google Maps emerged, and 2008 was when AirBnb was launched. Today, we’re looking at human-less airport staff.
On one of my 2 am doomscrolling ventures, I came across a poorly designed carousel that said ‘Five professions that will be irrelevant by 2025’, and one of them was a travel agent, while simultaneously, we’re well apprised of the fact that the tourism industry is running riot. This seems a little unsettling. Perhaps the graph has such a pronounced incline that we’re racing to keep pace and will obliterate anything that gets in the way, even if it’s a lousy human who does it slower than a machine would.
So, what did technology do to tourism? I recall, back in 2007, waiting outside the PIA office in Islamabad while my father got return tickets to Karachi, and I could resume school the next day. I don’t see the likelihood of that happening anymore. Now, I can book a flight right here as I Google exactly where I need to be if I’m looking for a deep-fried tarantula in Cambodia or if there’s a mystic voodoo woman in a secluded Haitian island that gives out spices in exchange for human hair.
When we kill off the travel agent, we pinpoint the consumer using their phone to book the plane, the hotel, the guide (read: list of places to visit with the hyperlinked location), the commute, the travel insurance, and cyber-searching a truckload of other things. The agency may have to call and deal with hotels and airlines, but in the case of the latter, these companies stretch to your phone screens faster than you turn a wage to save for travel. Win-win for the travel agent who knew she needed to adapt to stay relevant and forged a portal under her company for the consumer to do all those things in one place.
I took the Makran Coastal Highway when nobody knew about that. Last winter, I came across a myriad of pages on Meta that said Beach Movie Night Weekend Trip in Ormara, followed by the detailed itinerary, and it was genuinely winsome. I don’t think group tours were as prevalent a few years ago (they were ages ago), but this felt safer, it felt inclusive, and the prospect of meeting new people seems like a novel concept; here, everyone from the visitor to the organizer wins! This makes me wonder; I’ve referred to a lot of posts here as opposed to my last publish in 2022, where I spoke of a lot of electronic commercials, and this was just a year ago. Per my research, the silent revolution began in 2015, when Google incorporated RankBrain, a software that tracks all searches, into its algorithm, making it easier for companies to catapult inside the consumer’s mind. It’s like a holograph as in The Hunger Games, I think cheeseburger, they put a cheeseburger in front of me.
As per Statista, 36.4% travellers use social media for travel inspiration, and about 50% Generation Zers rely on Meta for their tourist expeditions. The hashtag travel alone has over 600 million posts on the Gram. The wall adjacent to my staircase happens to have all our travel photos framed and put in order of visit; I don’t blame anyone for stamping the same on their social media.
And let’s not be too hasty to skip pop culture whilst we’re on the subject. The media have shoved down our throats the Eiffel Tower to be an abode of love, the Maldivian beaches to be the classic honeymoon destination, the fictitious idea that one can live in every country and switch jobs every few months, or that bachelorettes are only memorable if taken place in Thailand; none of that is implausible, but is idealized unduly. The State of American Traveller reports that 39% of global tourists booked destinations inspired by their depiction in films. There goes the rationale of why we’re on a supersonic time (read: travel) machine.
Evolution is inevitable, if not celebratory. Everything about the human race is undergoing perpetual transformation. Why should it be any different for our travel conventions? Needless to say, humans have always been at the centre of everything. Back then, it was about survival; today, it’s about escaping from work and jumping on the Twitter hashtag bandwagon.
What does the future hold? I’m thinking of flying cabs, smart luggage tags, machine airport staff (the Emirates terminal sets a spectacular example), sustainable flights and accommodations, no language barriers, and robo-commutes; who knows, perhaps in just a few years, I’ll be typing an article in my hybrid work pod, seamlessly connected to both work and home, from either location and not at my desk at work. Wouldn’t that be a good day?