As the wind through the trees, we pass through the lives of those we visit online, seeking awareness, not souvenirs. For some of today's Internet pioneers, it is difficult to discover the rich and the strange when clustered on a bus with other people so much like us. Eating your way along a chain of multinational hotels is one way to experience the world; leaving home to discover new aspects of living represents another.
In considering the joys of travel, it would be well to remember the wise words of Nepal's pre-eminent trekker, Dr. Toni Hagen, who walked over 10,000 miles throughout Nepal in the 1950s. In his keynote address to the Second PATA Adventure Travel Conference in Kathmandu, he said:
"The cultural encounter of mass tourism has more severe consequences on general development than the ecological threat. The latter can be reduced by technical measures. Ecological damages are theoretically reversible. The loss of cultural substance and identity is irreversible. No money or technical measures whatsoever can buy it back."
The process of awakening, the journey itself, forms a focal point for today's virtual tourist. Through the Net, journeys occur largely in the imagination, stimulated by perceptions gained through a mouse--sparing the planet we are so hungry to discover. Through the windows of our computers, we witness not only other lives and landscapes, but can manipulate these as well. Backwards and forwards through time we travel, as in a movie of our own making. Digital history becomes a palimpsest, an ongoing story we participate in at will, with none of the dangers of terrestrial travel.
Today, we can realize this quest best through games, such as "Amazon Trail" or "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" But the more adept we become at navigating the Net, the better we can tailor to our own needs and wants the "real" trips we take. Airline and B&B reservations, dinner dates with colleagues, appointments at conventions and museum excursions--all can be lined up in advance so that the trip already exists in detail online before it assumes reality. Less an adventure on an uncharted sea than the fulfillment of a timetable, one need hardly take such a well-planned trip after all. Its execution itself becomes a kind of real-life game.
Why put up with the hassle? If having a "good trip" means nothing unexpected happens, why allow yourself to be routed through airports and hotel rooms like a packet on an air traffic controller's screen? The wild turf beckons where the Sherpas are few. Internet allows you to program your own fleet of "knowbots," tame agents like alteregos to ferret about and do your bidding, diving for URLs to fill your cache. Leave the terrorists and bellyaches to the bus tours. From the safety of your screen you can visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace, hunt a hippo, visit a Nobel Prize winner, or climb Denali. Time will come when weaving ourselves together through the Web, like the wind laughing through the trees, might generate a new and unimagined tour bus, whose keys are at your fingertips and whose engine is in your head.