On a trip that felt like a strange trip down a rabbit hole, I’ve come to realise that technology might be sophisticated, but it sure lacks imagination.
And so do we (sometimes).
Satellites vs. sensibilities: The modern traveller’s dilemma
Enter the Global Positioning System — or GPS, as it’s lazily called by the hordes of travellers who’ve never known the thrill of unfolding a road map on a car’s hood, desperately searching for a dot that represents salvation. Those were the days! When people navigated the contours of the land using conversation with the gas station owner, intuition, and occasionally, sheer luck. But now? Now, a tiny screen, borne of silicon and satellites, dictates the pace.
Have we become so technologically co-dependent that we’ve lost our connection to the very Earth we stand on? The situation is like some kind of twisted Faustian bargain. We traded our spatial instincts, that ancient sense of direction that our ancestors relied upon when chasing mammoths, for a robotic voice that can’t discern a patch of sand from a pit of quicksand.
All this came rushing into sharp focus last week when I drove from Leeds, England to a small town near Kilmarnock in Scotland. Yes, it was Moscow. Thirty-three hours and 1992 miles wasn’t the result I expected from a drive just north of where I was…so, if I left everything unquestioned to what a screen dictated, where else might I end up?
Moscow or bust
Kickstarting this electric journey were the ever-echoing Moscows of Ireland and Idaho (plus another nineteen American towns named after the capital of Russia), followed by the surprising number of Romes that are not in Italy where you’d expect to find them, or the offbeat Berlins of El Salvador and South Africa. But just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, Louisiana throws in a Milan, and the world tosses up Londons in Serbia, France, Texas, and the northern icy realm of Svalbard. Let’s not get started with Paris.
But the real trip? The insanity that is ‘Newcastle.’ Point your mechanical guide to it and find yourself spiralling. Are you gunning for the foggy streets of the UK, or the diverse terrains somewhere across the huge expanses of the USA, Canada, or Australia? But wait! The wormhole goes deeper. You might end up getting entangled in the mysteries of Neuburg in Germany, sidetracked by Neuchâtel in Switzerland, or thrown off course in Nové Hrady of Czech Republic. They’re also places named after castles that were, at a time, new.
If that isn’t enough, you could be dancing to the rhythms of Akhaltsikhe in Georgia, wandering the historic aisles of Jaunpils in Latvia, visiting the exotic Kota Bharu, Malaysia, getting lost amidst the medieval tales of Nyborg in Denmark, or soaking up sun and history in Herceg Novi, Montenegro. They’re all Newcastles in their own language, so a trip there could be a trip into anywhere, and everywhere. Should we go on and include Qal’eh-ye Now, Afghanistan, the glut of towns in Italy named Castelnovo or perhaps we’d end up in Nowy Zamek, Poland. It’s almost like the world proclaimed, ‘Newcastle seems like a really grand place’ and went on a naming spree!
York, but new
Amidst this geographical comedy, echoes of history reverberate. Hamlets, villages, towns and metropolises are often just tales of immigrants pouring their hearts and memories into unfamiliar places, intertwining old homes with fresh beginnings. Then, there’s the audacity of conquerors, like Alexander the Great, a man with an ego so large it spanned continents. Not content with a world-altering empire, he etched his name into the very dirt of the lands he conquered. From the historically rich Alexandria in Egypt, he went on a 70-plus city-naming spree, splashing Alexandrias across the globe. He even named a town in Pakistan after his beloved horse. Congratulations, Bucephala. Talk about leaving no stone unturned or, in this case, unnamed.
The human touch
But here’s the crux of what came to me as I drove to Moscow. As seductive as these screens and robot-voices might be, entrapping us with their AI guile, there’s a pressing need to break free. We’ve traded the thrill of serendipity for the monotony of algorithms. Instead of being wanderers, we’re becoming programmed tourists. The unfurling road used to beckon with mysteries; now, it’s a calculated path on a pixelated map and a glance up from the screen might reveal a world bursting with raw, unfiltered vibrancy – a world the AI can’t truly grasp.
So, fellow nomads, before setting sail on a GPS-guided voyage, remember: this vast world has stories far more riveting than the cold logic of algorithms. Use it, of course! Just don’t become a puppet in the hands of AI’s rendition of the world.
Our planet, with its double-takes and doppelgängers, offers sagas that no screen can capture. Dive deep into the tales, relish the mirages, and understand that on your madcap expeditions, it’s not just the destination, but the deranged detours and the unplugged adventures you’ll remember most fondly.