Arts, Tourism, and Technology Wow
I’ve been in Italy on holiday for the last week, and while looking at extraordinary history
from the 13th and 14th centuries, I tried to keep my
eye out for what will eventually be extraordinary history from the 21st
century. I didn’t find much until one day when wandering by a spanking new
tour office with a sign for “iPhone tours.” This intrigued me.
Turns out a week ago, this tourism company started renting
iPhones preloaded with dozens of 3- to 10-minute video narratives of key
historical sites, museums and the like. Using the phone's visual GPS,
I could navigate easily to pretty much any spot in Florence, and the phone included organized itineraries so I could map out a logical order of seeing things.
What had been a somewhat cumbersome experience of finding my
way on the map, opening the guide book, finding the page, and reading about what
I was seeing, suddenly became entirely now. I was now listening to my own personal guide (in most cases
with appropriately chosen music underscoring) and seeing on the video
specifically what I should be looking for. It was particularly helpful inside
churches where it’s not always clear where to find the chapels.
What was surprisingly helpful was watching the short videos
as a way of selecting where to go – there’s never enough time to see
everything, and often the descriptions in the guide books are nothing
compared to watching a video preview.
What I experienced was version 1.0 of this new product. As
the beaming salesperson (who I think may have been the owner of the company)
explained, the phones are of course already Web-enabled (which let me check my
e-mail and news for free, rather than paying for an internet café or over-priced
hotel access), but soon you’ll be able to use it as a real phone for the day as well. So if
you’re traveling with someone, now there's a really good way of keeping track of
each other, particularly with the new apps that let you see where your friends are on a map.
Just like the Web is no a replacement for printed book, but
something rather different, this approach is far more than a electronic
replacement for a guide book. I can only
imagine how useful it will be when you can call up cultural events happening
while you’re in a city, buy tickets that you can use with a bar-coded entrance
rather than a ticket, and get discounts already arranged by the tour company.
It also suggests a time when rather than having the tours
pre-loaded onto the phone, you could merely stream them directly from a Web
site. That opens up tons of possibilities because you won’t then need to rent a
particular device – anyone could access any tour from anywhere. And the tours
could be developed by anyone – imagine a city-tour for foodies hosted by your
favorite celebrity chef, or an art gallery tour given by a noted art historian.
This has the potential to completely revolutionize the
travel experience. Those of you who are explorers and cringe at all of this
technology removing the sense of discovery will hate this. But I found it to be a whole new way of
experiencing travel – and I think it's going to reinvent what some refer
to as cultural tourism.