Technology Lessons from Travel

For the past week or so, I’ve been on the road, so to speak, travelling on holiday in Mexico. A frequent traveller who likes to soak up the culture of the country in which I find myself, I’m nonetheless unable to disconnect from reality and spend much of my time connected through social media, email, Skype, podcasts and RSS feeds to the friends, family and world back home.

I’m always milling through a few questions in my mind before I travel, such as:

1. which device/s to take;

2. how to get connected – whether through wifi, 3g or a combination of the two; and

3. which platforms to use for blogging, sharing and communicating.

Central to my decision-making in all of the above is the extent to which I need to be productive while on holiday, the tools that I know and the workflows that support the things I generally need to do. This holiday’s been a really interesting one for two reasons: first, having to attend the conference in Grand Rapids, I opted to take the technology ‘works,’ including my iPhone (unlocked), iPod, iPad, digital camera and MacBook; and, second, the fact that my MacBook died on me three days into the trip, leaving me with the iPad as my primary computing device.

A frequent blogger, I need to be able to compose entries offline and include images, videos and audio where necessary. For this reason, I love third party applications that connect with WordPress and Blogger APIs and often use MarsEdit on the Mac or Blogsy on the iPad. My main concern with these tools, and with web apps generally is the extent to which they genuinely support offline use and the extent to which they cater to users with limited bandwidth. Having to subsist on the iPad, I’m happy to report that with a combination of Blogsy for blogging, Photogene for image resizing and uploading and the iPad SD card connector, I’m able to blog through both WordPress and Blogger with relative ease and on a very limited connection (resizing the images down to 640×480 reduces each image from a whopping 1.9 mb to a mere 140 kb). It’d be nice if Blogsy let me position and queue the images and text offline, but for now I’ll make do – and I’ll certainly consider the iPad sufficient for the next holiday.

Having said all of this, trips where I’m often scrounging for a wifi signal and wasting valuable time uploading images when I could be just enjoying myelf make me appreciate a nice constant broadband or good-quality 3G connection. They also make me aware of the circumstances in which the vast majority of people in the world get connected (or not) on a daily basis. In as much as I’ll pressure the developers of the apps I use to support offline and limited connectivity/bandwidth, I’d also like to pressure app and website developers to consider users in developing world contexts, especially those who access the web through tiny mobile devices and much older 2G and 1G standards. If we’re serious about equity and the potential of technology to vastly improve the living standards of so many around the world, we need to be thinking about how we support older technologies and limited access at the same time as paving the way forward for the world of newer and faster.

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About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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