It’s been a long hiatus from writing in this space, but as Alain de Botton says
And travel, my reliable muse, has not only brought me back to familiar places but reignited the passion for the ideas that I have developed throughout this blog.
Where were we? Oh yes, hyperlocal is hard.
The quest to assemble a local guide for the global citizen has taught me that Hyperlocal is hard. While cities have a convenient way to measure their boundaries, narrowing a particular area within a city with a very specific mindset or spirit seems a lot harder. We often fail to recognize that a lively neighbourhood is the sum of its core commercial strip, the back alleys that hide its best secrets, the surrounding residential areas that define the character of its inhabitants and the eternal flow of people that make it their favourite. Now imagine trying to define a city by one of its many neighbourhoods.
Such was the naive journey I embarqued in when decided to develop such a guide. In the process of researching some neighbourhoods I found myself knocking on doors of boutique hotels camouflaged as residences, negotiating “licensing fees” to take a few photos in amazing secret gardens, discovering the unbelievably rich history behind ancient buildings, growing frustrated with the gross inaccuracy of map services that led me to dead ends or ghost hotels (I swear, they are not there) and trying to put myself in the shoes of the brave traveler willing to go farther for the sake of a great journey.
The intent was clear: if I was a “slow traveler”, willing to invest myself into a destination, which particular area within a city would maximize my chances of understanding it? Originally conceived as a project to arm myself with plenty of good ideas for future travel, it quickly became the topic of many conversations with travel enthusiasts realizing this was a fresh alternative to the complexity of city-oriented travel guides with their endless listings.
So it is hard. Not impossible. And because I have the good fortune of being allied with a smart group of people that have devoted their careers to make travel easier, I have escalated this particular venture to the level of a business project with PlanetEye. As I write this post, the production team at PlanetEye is finishing touches to launch what is our first joint project: a mix of some of the ideas you’ve read about here and some of the content that I produced over the last months with a very interesting visual proposition and more importantly a potential business angle that will make it a viable project, allowing us to expand to many other destinations. I really hope this first venture of the Global Culture brand is embraced by the always curious global citizen.
Picking the first few destinations for the Global Culture Tour is a matter of convenience. We think we’ll cover 4 or 5 micro-regions before the end of the year and we hope their variety and the fresh content will keep people interested while we produce more. As I mentioned in previous posts, the first one was a very simple decision: Coyoacán is very close to my heart as I lived there many years, but it has also been able to maintain its personality throughout the centuries (yes, it is that old). During recent visits I grew confident that although Mexico City has many things to offer, the global citizen would find in this particular area of the city an interesting retreat from all the fast-paced action that takes place everywhere else.
The second destination will be an area in my current city: Toronto. Deciding which particular neighbourhood, however, has not been so simple. Toronto has many faces and changes very fast. I’ve been looking back at my own notes about what makes an ideal destination for the global citizen and keep bouncing between two areas: St. Lawrence Market and Queen West. While one has been maturing for a century and has consolidated itself as a top destination for locals, the other one seems to be the hotspot for a new generation and while it lacks the infrastructure, acts as a magnet for very interesting people and projects.
A comparison wouldn’t be fair, but deciding which one of the two neighbourhoods is more likely to attract the global citizen I keep saying to myself that it can’t be too touristy. After all our global citizens have developed travel skills beyond the average tourist and are more likely to explore new areas of the city. But there is only so much time you would spend at a place that has an interesting strip of restaurants and galleries. Finding the right balance between edgy urban innovation and established Main Street must be done with the needs of our travellers above all.
The global citizen is likely to travel with a purpose and as such will require quick and easy ways to network, connect and set up shop. Sometimes he will travel for a few days and sometimes he will linger, falling in love with a location because of its spirit and variety. As a person who has mastered the art of working off-hours, he will set his own pace and will be able to mix a good dose of entertainment. Above all he will only be content with a place that because of its character will teach him something new about life and that is not something easy to accomplish.
I find that the problem with trying to be too edgy is that like any adolescent, you’re still working on your personality. It’s just a matter of time.
Hiring travel writers with a passion for discovering destinations, plenty of travel experience, able to work independently, equipped with computer and digital camera and with sound knowledge of a foreign language
This is how a typical job posting would look like. You'll read it, get excited about the fact that you've found your calling, dream about all those exotic and glamorous cities you'll visit and then you'll realize it's impossible to make a living out of it. At least that is what appears to be the case if all you want to do is write.
Found on Twitter: Good writing will soon become ubiquitous. Professional writers will soon become rare. (via @scrawledinwax)
What is important to understand is that in the age of "user generated content" everyone feels entitled to write and give an opinion on absolutely everything. Personally I'm not sure how soon GOOD writing will become ubiquitous but if the popular saying is to be trusted it will take about one million words for the average user to become a good writer. At a pace of 100 words per rant and assuming one per day it will take a couple of decades to get there.
However, professional writing and in particular professional travel writing is being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of words that floods the medium, diluting the value of the few words that have been crafted as opposed to just hammered on a keyboard. So how is a good travel writer supposed to make a living?
Someone jokingly said "become an editor". What I'm about to suggest is a variant that those specialized in travel may prefer: become a "destination editor".
Find your little corner of the world, some largely unknown region and assume it as your own. Settle there (even better if you already live there) and get to know the people, their culture, the things that make them proud and figure out why other people need to know this area. Then set up your Travel 2.0 shop, recruit eager locals to do what they already do: write lots of words, take lots of pictures, participate in lots of online forums. Once you get some momentum it's time to do your part. Craft an incredibly unique story that becomes the backbone for all those little snippets of loose content. In a way think of yourself as an anthology editor whose job is to orchestrate the ongoing story of that little, micro region of the world.
In acoustic medium, I had ventured some ideas about what type of medium we were creating through a culture of participation. Somehow I believe a great travel story fits perfectly into this type of medium.
If this sounds like something to get excited about, I may be hiring travel writers after all. Leave a comment. Stay tuned.
Summer’s solstice, the longest day of the year seems to be a great day to sit in the backyard to read the usual weekly magazines and catch up on some writing. In a typical residential area in the middle of the city, my macbook detects almost a dozen different wireless networks including mine, of course. With a broadband connection and a high-end wireless router, there is no difference between what I can accomplish here or at the office on any given day. I’ll take the backyard every time I can.
Already in hackers & work culture I had discussed how the boundaries between professional and private live were blurred. First with a wave of mobile communication devices that made everyone accessible to attend business at any time of the day and now with ubiquitous wireless access points that are now converting everyone into a local nomad, pushing us away from our desks into third spaces, far more amenable and with a twist of social.
Connectivity seems to be an increasingly important factor when deciding where we are going to travel. After all, you wouldn’t want to be disconnected from twitter while travelling… or have to pass on a great project right in the middle of your trip. I’ll leave to other posts the discussion about entrepreneurial spirit, which may justify this obsession with being in the loop at all times.
In any case, knowing about what kind of connectivity you’ll get whether you are going to be away from the office for a few hours or a few days is now an essential factor in your decision process. While more and more destinations are offering wireless access (even for free), very few provide a good enough environment to support a productive work session. So that got me thinking on what are the “must-have” when it comes to connectivity?
We could talk about Wi-Fi, 3GS, EDGE, broadband, DSL, but there are far better forums for that kind of information if you are curious about the technology. Instead I propose the following test, a digital nomad test that expresses in simple human terms the quality of your connectivity:
- Price Voice: How much would it cost to make a 5 minute call to the top contact from your mobile phone? While most destinations would likely provide the means for your current mobile phone to roam, sometimes the fees involved are prohibitive.
- Price Data: Let’s assume you’re one of those modern workers who have achieved the goal of working only 4 hours a week. How much does it costs to be connected for those 4 hours on a given week?
- Delay to receive a message: in today’s hyper-connected world there is an implicit expectation that if you’re sent a message (email, instant messaging, Twitter, etc), you would respond within a reasonably short time frame. Of course, if you’re trying to save on your data plan because you’re roaming and you only connect once a day, you’re for all intents and purposes disconnected. So this attribute measures how long it will take before you’re able to get a message sent to you.
- Time to compose a 1000-words message: No, I’m not talking about how fast you type but to the misconception that you can be just as productive with your mobile than with a laptop or desktop computer. Let’s admit it, tiny keyboards are not built for typing long messages and when faced with the option we’ll likely postpone writing that long memo or document. So while we may fool ourselves into thinking that carrying a smart-phone is enough, sometimes we’ll have to wait until we’re in front of a computer to be productive.
- Time to download/watch a 15 minute video: This is the ultimate performance test in today’s world. With video demanding the most from your connectivity infrastructure, this will measure the overall quality of your network, end to end.
With this sort of standardized connectivity test, it would be easier for people to make decisions about how to remain connected when on the road. Is there any other dimension that needs to be measured?
On the trail of liveability rankings released recently by both The Economist Intelligence Unit and Mercer, and just a couple of weeks until Monocle’s Global Quality of Life Survey is out, I thought it would be interesting to question why we care so much about liveability?
But first here are some thoughts from a friend on why we don’t want to live in a ‘liveable’ city:
This hurts Vancouver so much…
1) Employers can say, it’s so livable ! so we can afford to pay less – people SO want to live here.
2) Real estate market keeps going up — people want to live here
3) Vancouverites who haven’t been elsewhere keep the same attitude that it is so perfect and there’s no room for improvement :
- Release city restrictions : Velib bikes ? Sidewalk cafes ?
- A little more culture : +art, +theatre.
It is great that you can ski and go to the (cold) beach on the same day, but that does not mean it would be bad if you could ski and go to see ‘Wicked’ or a Monet on the same day…..
Is it possible that a city can hypnotize its inhabitants into such a state of apathy that liveability is an attribute to be desired but never to be acquired? Just as Borges suggests that there is nothing remarkable about being immortal except to know oneself immortal; I wonder if our (my?) obsession with liveability would terribly affect our lifestyles should we realize we already ARE living in the absolute best place we can possibly find.
Perhaps the most important lesson in travel can be applied to this quest: what matters is not the destination, but the journey. To aspire to find better ways to live, learn from other people making a good and balanced living, connect with other people pursuing the same ideals; these are the reasons to continue our quest for liveability and never settle and assume that we’ve found it. The most interesting bit of this quest is every single new place that will teach us something new that we hadn’t learnt in our previous stops.
I should add that the quote from my friend is based on his own experience living abroad, finding the city of lights after many years of what anyone would’ve assumed was already a great lifestyle. It demonstrates the spirit of a true global citizen, never assuming that things are as well as they could be. Not for himself, not for his family and not for the people that live around him. There will always be a better way, and that’s the spirit of the invitation in give up your urban “devil”:
the key may be in experimentation: what if you could try alternate lifestyles for a short while? Maybe farming is not going to cut it, but helping a community in need develop advanced social programs tapping into your urban skills may be your call. If you could try not one but a few life-changing experiences, chances are not only you’ll change your life, but you’ll end up enhancing the life of many people around you.
P.S. If you haven’t read The Immortal, go buy The Aleph by Borges.
Via Stephen Joyce and his T4 blog (Travel & Tourism Technology Trends) I found a brief but great summary of what constitutes a meaningful experience. It comes from the people at the Lapland Centre of Expertise for the Experience Industry in Finland.
But before I repost an abstract of their model it is worth revisiting where this quest comes from: in give up your urban “devil” I suggest that some sort of experimentation is needed for the global citizen to learn of other life-styles… experimentation as in trying various ‘experiences’.
Here is a list of the elements of meaningful experiences and how I see them applied to the notion of exploring global cultures:
- Individuality: how unique and extraordinary a product is. One of the key drivers to explore a Global Culture is the realization that unless we are careful to orchestrate our life-styles according to the highest standards, it is too easy to fall into the common place that groups the majority of people living in large urban centres. The quest to learn about how other people (usually small, unique groups) are finding better ways to conduct their lives without giving up important advances in society/culture/technology is what motivates many global citizens to keep moving.
- Authenticity: reflects the existing lifestyle and culture of the region. In direct opposition to a staged experience, the discerning traveller is often frustrated by elements revealing the orchestration behind the scenes. A daring traveller will often prefer to struggle a little to figure things out and ‘get’ an authentic treatment from the locals than be given a show devoid of challenges, digested for the faint of heart.
- Story: A credible and authentic story gives the product a social significance and content. I’ve recently started to discuss the fact that the best way to engage potential travellers into an experience is by immersing them into the ongoing story, narrated with all the artifacts of modern technologies (blogs, videos, photos, locals tweeting, etc). The more a person is exposed to the real thing before travel time, the more likely the experience will render the personal transformation expected instead of becoming a collection of awkward, unforeseen circumstances that kill spontaneity.
- Multi-sensory perception: see my previous post on memorable experiences.
- Contrast: means how different the experience is from the customer’s everyday life. In the context of immersing yourself into another culture, the degree of contrast may play against you. After all, you’re trying to decide if you could live this life. If everything was too different to what you’re used to, chances are you won’t want it. However, it is safe to assume that the ideal life-style you’re looking for must be different to the one you have today, otherwise why would you had started the quest in the first place.
- Interaction: I’m convinced that an important element in creating these experiences is the possibility of maintaining your usual connections with your professional realm. This is important because we’re seeing how much we can change your context and maintain that thing that makes you valuable to society… then applying that to your new context.
The T4 blog is all about a technology that helps small, independent tour operators to embrace the same technologies that other larger entities have without incurring in the burden of implementing it. I believe many of the same concepts and much of the technology can be leveraged to create far more complex experiences that span several suppliers. Ultimately we are trying to give people access to many of the elements that would create an entire life-style for a specific period of time in order to give them a shot at
becoming global citizens.
When I wrote startup and the simple life a couple of months ago I set in motion a plan that would take me to a rural setting with the idea to create productive business relationships with locals hoping to capitalize on some of the ideas of this blog. Mostly on the idea that we urbanites treasure the calmness that can only be acquired through detachment from our ever accelerating way of live.
It is perhaps a sign that Monocle’s #24 romanticizes the idea of agro as a fundamental human activity that would restore the soul or our society by getting closer to the people that make a living from farming. While the same formula is often cited by advocates of organic produce, Monocle’s article seems to be more focused on the art of living a simple life and be productive at the same time. I say it must be a sign because just a few days ago I was using the concept of agro-tourism (as developed in Italy) as a prime example of how people seek to immerse themselves into a lifestyle that seems to be disappearing as urban centres advance.
I too, while trying to refine this idea, assumed that if we could send a few people over to the rural landscape, the environment would work its magic, their soul would be cleansed and they would have the experience of their life. But something seems to be missing from this assumption.
If you’ve spent a week at a villa/farm in Europe, sipping a cup of coffee while watching the men and women of the town work the fields and bring fresh produce to the table, only to spend three hours on a slow-food feast, proud of how in touch with humanity you are, you’ve got to realize you’re still an spectator and the whole experience is a bit foreign. Yes, maybe they invited you pick your own fruit from the tree, but would you consider trading your current lifestyle for this? Would you work the fields from dawn to dusk to have a quiet evening and a light dinner?
This tension between our urban self and our “gaia” consciousness is a complex one and has developed already many traumas on simple people trying to do the right thing. It may be tempting to give up our urban “devil” and enlist in some new form of commune. But for most of us that experience will not last.
As with many other problems, the key may be in experimentation: what if you could try alternate lifestyles for a short while? Maybe farming is not going to cut it, but helping a community in need develop advanced social programs tapping into your urban skills may be your call. If you could try not one but a few life-changing experiences, chances are not only you’ll change your life, but you’ll end up enhancing the life of many people around you.
You can only become a global citizen by living like other citizens around the globe.