10 aspects of travel ruined by smartphones

Alamy

Today’s smartphones are, of course,
amazing. But a lot of the stuff they have replaced was amazing too.
In some cases even more amazing.

Then: Printed plane tickets.

Now: Your phone.

Remember those cheque-book-shaped booklets with the impossibly
flimsy pages separated by carbon paper and the tight,
official-looking grids filled with cryptic codes in futuristic
typefaces? Completely enchanted. Remember your last email from
EasyJet? Not so much.  

Then: A real camera with real
film.

Now: Your phone.

Clicking open the panel on the back of the camera and removing
the film you’ve just finished. Peeling the grey round lid off the
black canister and removing the new film, a few centimetres of its
perforated tail visible, dark and glossy, neatly curled. Dropping
the exposed film into the empty canister. Slotting the new film
into the empty camera, stretching out that springy bit of curled
tail and pressing the perforations against the sprockets. Clicking
the panel shut again. Bliss.

Then: A battered paperback.

Now: Your phone.

It used to be common courtesy among Interrailers to leave the
book you’d just read in a place where another Interrailer would
find it – typically, on the train seat you were sitting in when you
finished it. In this fashion what came around went around. And
around and around. You were introduced to some pretty random stuff
as a result (‘Delta of Venus, eh? Always wanted to learn a
bit more about astronomy. I’ll give it a whirl’). And you never had
to buy books.

Then: A map. 

Now: Your phone.

Big, unwieldy, difficult to interpret, impossible to fold up
properly. Why bother with a map when you’ve got an app? Because a
map makes you feel awesome. In the words of author, cyclist and
map-lover Tim Moore: ‘You’re a slave to a sat-nav. With a map,
you’re not just the master – you’re the very emperor of your own
destiny.’

Then: Phone boxes.

Now: Your phone. 

Inconvenient, expensive, frustrating. All true, all true… And
yet, and yet…

Then: Printed train
timetables.

Now: Your phone.

I remember poring over great door-stopping volumes of train
times. Not because I had a thing for trains themselves. To me,
timetables were like Prospero’s books. They summoned into being not
merely a continent but an entire universe of infinite possibility,
a universe undiminished – indeed somehow only enhanced,
concentrated – by being reduced to lists of names and numbers in
black and white.

Then: Printed guidebooks.

Now: Your phone.

A sort of declaration, rather like the maps mentioned above.
‘I’m not from here,’ they announce on their reader’s behalf. ‘And I
don’t know how to get around or where to go or what to do. But I’m
going to figure it out.’  

Then: A Walkman.

Now: Your phone.

Nothing said ‘I love you, I’ll miss you, I’ll probably be with
somebody else by the time you get back from your trip’ quite like a
mix tape, with the carefully chosen tracks listed by hand on the
cassette sleeve. I gave my own Walkman away following what nearly
amounted to a Van Gogh moment when my headphones cord got caught
under an armrest as I stood up sharply to get off a Tube train.
Nevertheless, whenever I see their delicate, Omega-shaped
silhouette – still the universal shorthand for ‘headphone socket’ –
next to the socket on an electronic gizmo I think of
Flashdance and Back to the Future and smile
fondly. Think of Footloose and I snort out loud.
 

Then: Earplugs.

Now: Earphones. For your
phone.

Actually, I don’t really disapprove of this change at all,
except for the safety reasons mentioned in the previous item.

Then: Airmail envelopes, postcards,
post offices, stamps.

Now: Email, text messages, social
media. On your phone.

As with phone calls made using coins in phone boxes, somehow
handwritten correspondence, sent from a far-away post office in
stamped envelopes that were sealed with a lick and a kiss, just – I
don’t know – meantmore. Because it was that much harder to do,
I suppose. And because I’m quite a bit older now than I was then,
and that was simply what I did when I was younger. Well. Whatever.
I’ll shut up now and go and check my email and put a few snapshots
from my phone on Instagram.

Steve King is our Editor-at-Large

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