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The Disinterested Digital Age

I grew up with one foot in the analog age and I’m extremely grateful.

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KRABI, Thailand- I was invited off the street one night to sit down with a group of young expats in Krabi town. I had absolutely nothing better to be doing — I was just walking from cafe to cafe, bar to bar, drinking and writing — so I accepted with a smile.
I sat down and gave my usual answers to the usual questions:

    • I’ve been traveling for 18 years.
    • I spend much of my time in places like Central Asia.
    • I’m an author. I travel and research material to write about.
    • I’m a journalist. I write for big media.
    • I sometimes work on documentaries with major TV networks and upper-tier filmmakers.

I then looked at them.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. They had no response. Not even a “Who do you write for?” or a “What are your books about?”

They weren’t being rude. Nothing that I said seemed to make them skeptical. They just seemed completely, absolutely disinterested in other people.

That’s fine. I don’t always need to feel like the most interesting guy at the table. But to have someone give an elevator pitch like that and receive not one single follow up question was a little startling.

One girl was impressed with herself about her ability to say a few fledgling phrases in Thai that nobody seemed to understand and one of the guys only wanted to talk about his business that he just started up. I talked with them about their things until there was nothing left to extract, and then sat back and looked at them as thought they were something I’ve never seen before.

They weren’t necessarily newbie travelers but weren’t yet old enough to have gone bat shit. (For some reason, too much Thailand makes Westerners go bat shit.)

I looked at them had had to wonder if they had interested in anything that wasn’t themselves? What are they traveling for if not to meet and learn about other people?

Perhaps I should have pulled out my phone and started showing them selfies…

These kids were of the generation of travelers that followed my own. Some call them Millenials, although I believe that my generation (I was 18 years old on New Year’s day year 2000) should have rights to that title.

Whatever the case, whey were the first fully digital generation — they never experienced the analog age — and something about that seems to have made them intellectually stunted and overwhelmingly self absorbed. They grew up in the age where cameras have lenses that face backwards — something that 20 years ago would have seemed about as useful as a backward facing gun.

I grew up in a world without computers, without cellphones (let alone smartphones), where there was no such thing as social media. If we weren’t meeting people in person then we weren’t meeting people at all. Analog network TV was our main killer of time, and everybody watched the same channels. You could go into work or school and everybody could talk about the same programs they watched the night before. We were culturally same-paged, and I feel that this gave us the feeling of commonality — a feeling of commonality that I took for granted then but really miss now that it no longer exists.

Then when I was in high school people began getting personal computers in their homes. That was nuts. When I was in college people started getting personal computers that you could carry with you. That was amazing. Then suddenly, those computers could fit into your pocket and could do everything from call people to take photos to browse the internet. In the beginning, this new technologies were neat lifestyle add-ons at first — you could choose to participate in them or not to participate in them — and there was still a special value that was placed on the analog world, as though it was something more redeemable, important, and far cooler than anything you could get from a screen. Computers were refuges for geeks who were rejected from analog society to abscond into.

It’s the opposite now.

Although I make my living in the digital realm and, I have to admit, bask in what these digital technologies allow me to do and the life they enable me to lead, I’m still eternally grateful that my initial concept of the world was one in which they didn’t exist. I am eternally grateful for those first 18 years of life where analog reigned supreme and that I had a childhood that was all dirt, bicycles, guns, bonfires, fishing rods, football, friends, and the boredom that droves us to explore.

Filed under: Thailand, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3632 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York

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