Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Get Out Much?
I really need to get out of the country---it's been way too long. Once I took my first trip abroad, I knew travel had to be a priority in my life, but it's so easy to let the months and years slip by without "getting out". I'm taking a trip in the fall, but in the meantime, here's one of my favorite rants on Americans and travel.
For me, traveling is a huge part of developing identity and perspective, both of which seem to be in short supply around these parts. Despite---and perhaps because of---our ultra-connectivity, we are so often isolated in this country. Though we have the beautiful illusion of "globalization" and being a part of a world melting pot, in reality we have almost as much wool in our eyes as the Chinese about what it's like beyond our borders.
Most of our "experience" of the world is beamed into our our living rooms and PCs through a highly filtered lens. And though it's not the consciously state-imposed censorship enjoyed in China and other countries, our own brand of media-enabled ignorance is pretty mind-boggling if you stop to look at it. When you go out into the world or even engage other cultures within our borders, you realize that the shiny screen doesn't begin to capture the essence of actually experiencing that exchange in person. Television, movies and the news media so often create a fantasy world that runs on stereotypes and bite sized versions of reality.
The puzzling part about all this is that for most of us, this isolation is completely voluntary; about 80% of Americans don't even have a passport. Though many can afford to travel, it's either impractical or just not a priority. We're allotted 14 out of 365 days in the year to explore the world. And unlike many other countries, extended gaps in employment taken for travel are generally frowned upon. So that's under 4% of our lives. 4% of the less than 20% of the country who decides to get out there---how modern is that?
I'm not attacking Americans for not traveling or the media for perpetuating world stereotypes to get ratings. Because we're all complicit in this dance. I am attacking the roots of a stagnant mindset that weighs us all down. It's this head-in-the-sand ignorance that's led to much of our foreign policy blunders and the resulting global PR nightmare in which we find ourselves today. We can do and have done so much better. And I believe we will again. And the beauty of travel is that it's transformative; it's as much about reconnecting with ourselves as it is about connecting with the world.