Have you lost your sense of discovery? The number of developments and innovations that have taken place in recent years have been no less than stunning. I don’t think even the true initial believers could have imagined how a platform such as the internet would come to engulf our lives and make us so dependent on the information that it encapsulates. It seems to be the answer we have to every question. It is the arbitrator for every dinner table disagreement. It is our idea generator for the meal we want to cook for our dinner party. It is the purveyor of books we should read, restaurants we should eat at and locations we should visit.
The development of smart phone technology has extended that convenience one step further. Now, instead of having to slip into a cyber café to use a computer or wait till we are home to check our own, we can now have access to all this information whenever and wherever we are. This provides added capabilities such as geolocation applications whereby we can check to see if there is something within 100 feet of where we are standing that merits our attention. Are the burgers good at that place on the corner? Do they serve a good espresso over there? I have an hour to burn, is there an interesting museum to visit nearby?
The speed of the dissemination of this information has also vastly increased, and only seems to be getting faster. This allows people to spread the word to their tribes in a matter of seconds. We saw recently one of the more negative aspects of this advancement where an alert went out in Hawaii about an incoming missile. Around 8:07 a.m. on January 13, 2018, an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The spread of the message was extremely quick and effective as it sent scores of residents and travellers into a panic. There was only one problem, the message was false.
The combination of a worldwide internet, geolocation tracking and the speed at which we can transmit information, has created an arena for just about anybody to voice their opinion, on just about anything to the world, wherever they happen to be located at that moment in time . This has now created tribes of self-declared independent restaurant connoisseurs, historians, travel experts and curators of lists. The 10 best cafés, The 10 best cities to visit, What to do when you are in Paris, The best hotels for couples under 40, and my personal favourite, 20 hidden beaches away from the tourist crowd!
The blogs curating this kind of content have flourished over the years and there is a principle reason for their success. People look for certainty in their lives. When they go to a restaurant they want to know that they are assured of receiving something of equal or better value compared to what they have to pay. They want the promise that they have tasted the best cappuccino that can be found in all of Italy. If they go to a hotel they want to know that others who have been there previously have enjoyed it. This provides them more confidence that they won’t expect any unfortunate surprises. If they have traveled a long way, they want the guarantee that they have experienced the best that the location has to offer. The best way people have found to gain this certainty is to follow in the footsteps of someone else’s experience. So they go online and a quick Google search provides them with no lack of self proclaimed experts on where to go, what to see and what to eat.
In addition to the endless number of self-proclaimed experts, there is artificial intelligence. These are the algorithms that analyze everything you search for on the internet — music, art, articles, travel locations, restaurants or cafés. If you like rock music, the algorithm will feed you back a bunch of rock music. If you have been looking for Indian food, the algorithm will propose even more Indian food. Basing recommendations on a set of personal preferences sets up an endless cycle loop that is not so easy to break free from, unless you change those preferences yourself, at which point there is no discovery.
This is the point where we find discovery is lost. Discovery used to be a serendipitous event. We may have been invited to a friend’s home while his parents were playing their favourite Bach concerto. Never having heard one before made you want to go out and discover more despite the fact that you never listened to classical music before. You may have been invited out to dinner to a Greek restaurant where you discovered Souvlaki. This experience made you want to look more into Greek cooking. These are personal discoveries that were not based on any previous bias. They were pure discovery, which made them all the more appealing and memorable.
Now we have so called travel bloggers that will go out and comb every inch of a city to put up on their blog. We are not even sure if they have been to the sites they recommend. We don’t know under what conditions. They may have spent only 10 minutes in the place, long enough to grab a coffee and take a few pictures. The drawback to following someone else’s opinion on a location is that it is their opinion and not yours. Their personality may have a lot to do with their choices. If they are extroverts and you are an introvert, their choices will most likely differ from yours.
There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery – Jeff Bezos
As an example, I happened to read an article on Vietnam by one of the most widely followed and successful travel bloggers. It was one destination that he vowed never to return to. As he stated, “The simple answer is that no one ever wants to return to a place where they felt they were treated poorly. When I was in Vietnam, I was constantly hassled, overcharged, ripped off, and treated badly by the locals.” This was his experience and maybe his personality brought out the worst in people, we can’t be sure. There are millions of people in Vietnam and to judge them all because of a few bad apples is not a fair assessment of the country. I disregarded the blogger’s experience and advice not to go to Vietnam. My experience was quite the contrary. I met some amazing people, discovered some incredible culinary dishes, and saw some stunning scenery. The best part was just walking around the city, dropping in on a café here or there and speaking with the locals — who were incredibly hospitable. That was my experience.
To travel is to take a journey into yourself – Danny Kaye
Not every discovery works out for the best, but it is pure discovery. There is something special about walking down a little back street in Rome and stepping into a café filled with locals. You feel like it is a hidden gem that only you know about. Being excited about visiting Rome for the first time just adds to the emotion and adventure. Following in the footsteps of somebody else is just that. Living someone else’s experience. Doing this you rob yourself of pure discovery. You deprive yourself of a very personal experience.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” — French writer Marcel Proust
The world changes. Cities change. The fantastic time you had at a little jazz club in Greenwich Village in New York is a memory you will have forever. What makes it all the more valuable is that the jazz club is not there anymore. Nobody else will ever experience what you did because it was unique. It was a discovery at the right time.
Recommendations are fine. We all ask for recommendations which can save us time. We are not saying that all lists are bad. If you are visiting a city for a short duration and you want to know where some of the best museums are, a list can come in handy. So choose one, go and get lost and discover what they have to offer. See it through your eyes and not somebody else’s.
Here are a few “ideas” on how to get discovery back:
There is a comfort in always having the same thing. Woody Allen was known for going to the same restaurant in New York and ordering the exact same meal for years. If this is who you are then fine, but if you want to break free then embrace uncertainty. Try something different.
Put away the map for a while
Don’t always feel the need to follow the map when you are in a different city. I am not saying go and get lost, but just find a quarter and go discover it. See where your intuition takes you. Take the road less traveled. I was in Istanbul one time with a few friends and saw a man crossing the street with a tray and 4 small glasses of Turkish tea. He turned into a very narrow alley way. We were intrigued so we followed him to see where the tea room was located. It turned out that it was not a tea room per se but his little business which consisted of a small bench and a hole in the wall with his material to make the Turkish tea. He gave us a sign to come and he offered us a cup of tea. We had a good laugh speaking to him through a Turkish dictionary and his broken english. Somehow the experience made the tea taste that much better. It was pure serendipity.
Speak with people face to face
What a novel thing to do in our day and age. It feels like we have lost one to one discussions with everybody peering into their smart phones. Get out and ask your friends what they have been listening to. Who are their favourite groups. You may know someone with eclectic tastes that will lead you to new forms of music you may have never discovered otherwise. I met someone from Brazil a few years ago. They gave me a cd of a Brazilian singer I had never heard of. I loved it. It sent me on a journey of discovery of forms of Brazilian music I never knew existed.
It seems like everyone reads articles on the net and have become too lazy to read books. Articles have existed for years in magazines and other publications and can be very insightful. Books, on the other hand delve deep into the subject matter. Books are an incredible source of information. Whenever I read a book I discover leads to other interesting books to read. Years ago, I was reading a biography on a musician that was discussing his love of philosophy. I never expected that this book would lead me into a study of philosophy and some of the world’s great thinkers. It was a wonderful discovery that continues today. Check out our list of “Books You Should Read.”
The founders of The Hutch Report are originally from North America. A sense of adventure and thirst for discovery eventually brought us to live in Switzerland. From here, we have traveled extensively throughout Europe and the rest of the world. We have a fascination with all the moving pieces that make up what is now known as “The New Economy.” We dig into all these new moving parts and analyze how they affect society and our lives directly. Our experience and findings, hopefully provide insights, ideas and tools for our readers to profit from.