Connected in a Resort Town (Los Cabos, Mexico)

IMG_0796

Los Cabos comprises of the sister towns of San Jose Del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas which sit at the southern extreme of Mexico’s Baja Pennisula. Here two bodies of water, the Pacific ocean (to the west) and the Sea of Cortez (to the east) meet creating a fantastic profusion of marine life and a beguiling atmosphere of stunning coastal formations. For decades now Los Cabos have been a bonafide resort where North Americans, Mexicans and more come to enjoy sun, sea and tequila. As a result, the U of land of which they sit is home to bountiful tourist infrastructure and a sizeable expat community (particular during the winter months). How then is the quality of internet connection in such a resort town and how does connection quality (or lack of) affect the traveller’s narrativisation of travel?
Generally speaking, access to the Internet in Los Cabos is fair. There are a variety of connections available (in hotels and restaurants), and indeed every hotel we enquired with boasted a connection. Also, the speed of Internet connection is consistent and fast enough to upload photos or watch YouTube clips (maybe not in HD though). It is, however, notably slower than our home connection in Japan. With this consistent connection available we were able to approach our online narratives in a regular manner, spending a couple of hours each day in the hotel room or at a café. While our connection to the Internet within the main area of Los Cabos itself was sufficient, we did, however, experience some problems when it came to accessing the Internet within the broader Cabos area including towns about 100km away from Los Cabos themselves.

Like many resort towns in the world, the tourism focus in Los Cabos has begun to spread beyond the main town into outlying areas which are visited on day trips or by tourists who would prefer a more low-key holiday. In the broader Los Cabos area (specifically, Cabo Pulmo and Todos Santos) the Internet connection is not as serviceable as in town. While these areas boast sizeable expat communities and tourist infrastructure, Internet connection in these outlying areas is not constant. This particularly so in Cabo Pulmo, a burgeoning dive tourism hotspot located on a marine reserve in the Sea of Cortez. Climatic conditions in the arid Baja peninsula are extreme and towns which are located of the main highways may not be well amenitied in terms of services such as roads, power, water and telecommunications. Cabo Pulmo is located 15km of the paved highway, it is off the grid and relies on trucks for water. It has phone signal, however, Internet availability in town is patchy. In the one restaurant in town well known for having the Internet (The Coral Reef), the potential user is created with a sign listing various limitations on Internet usage. These restrictions can be seen to limit downloads and preserve the connection for a longer time. Interestingly, there is no mention made regarding uploading on this sign, perhaps, this service simply isn’t available.

The restrictions bring implications for the narrativisation of travel such as the imposition of text only format and the limitation to certain platforms (is Facebook banned because it’s videos load automatically and it has a high data usage rate?). These are indeed conditions I have seen in another remote location and in terms of connectivity Cabo Pulmo is much more a remote town than resort location. This contrast helps to highlight some of the different tiers of connectivity in different types of locations which travellers visit.

IMG_0795

The road from Cabo Pulmo south highlights the rugged charm of Los Cabos

DSCN0108

Restrictions on Internet use at The Coral Reef

How Travelling with a Companion Affects the ‘Selfie Gaze’

While the image of the solo traveller venturing alone into unknown land on a voyage of discovery and self-growth is an enduring trope within travel, these days it is not at all uncommon to share one’s trip with other companions either, from start to finish, or, changing partners along the way. On this trip I am travelling with my wife. As such close travel partners we do most things together and make decisions about our itinerary collectively: if one of us dislikes something, the other is less likely to do it.  We also co-narrate stories of our shared experience to people that we meet and are contextually aware of the communications that each of us is having with others. How then does having a travel companion affect how the traveller narrativises their travel?

Travelling with my wife there is definitely an element of co-narration which occurs as I share stories and images that we have developed collectively online. One way this occurs is through travel photographs, sometimes an experience I want to share online has been photographed by Kumi only (when I am driving I often ask Kumi to take photos for me). In using her photograph in my online story, I also take some of her perspective of the experience, such as her framing, into my recollection of the event.  Also implicit here is a kind of harmony in the telling shared stories. Many times after experiencing something together we recount it afterwards and develop our collective account of what happened which seems to harmonise both of our individual interpretations. This harmonisation usually occurs before the story is retold online (for me there is usually a settling period from a few days to few weeks before things go online – varying between platforms), and, as such, that which I share online is influenced by the harmonised version which we developed together.

While Kumi is rarely (or, actually, never) the subject of my posts, I ask permission before posting about her (an image she is featured in or took, or, a shared experience). In this way I am adopting a communication strategy which while privileging myself aims to build togetherness with travel partner. My ‘selfie gaze’ (i.e. the structuring factors behind my performance of self for the online audience) is acutely aware of Kumi’s presence as a co-participant in my travel experiences. That is not to say that I always include Kumi in my posts, however, it is to say that I gaze and perform in a way which is implicitly co-narrated via my closeness to Kumi and our shared experience of travel events. While Kumi and I are connected in physical life we are also connected as online actors as our profiles are linked to one another during the narrativisation of travel events: I sometimes tag Kumi in my posts and she more frequently tags me. We travel together not only physically, but in the online journey as well. Thus, Kumi’s status as a social actor connected to myself (online and emotionally) is an implicit part of my sharing of travel events online.

Here we might consider that the strength of online and emotional bonds between travellers affects to what degree travel events are co-narrativised and how considerate the traveller’s selfie gaze is of travel partners.

Other Things I do on the Internet while Traveling (that aren’t Social Media)

Email
Is email social media? This is a tricky question that I keep coming back to on this trip. My email use is very close to what I do on social media. In my inbox, I exchange personal messages which frequently (but not always) touch on my trip and the experiences I am having herein. One salient difference between my emails and, say, Facebook Messenger, is that my emails cover a broader range of communication, from friends and family (often travel related) to formal professional communication (less frequently mentioning travel). Indeed, I have a number of different email addresses which I use in different ways (which, however, in contrast to my multiple social media platforms, have the same basic functionality – sending and receiving messages).

While some definitions of social media, such as Fuchs (2015): “Social media has become a common term for signifying the usage of social networking sites, microblogs, blogs, (user-generated) content sharing sites, or wikis,” tend to leave email outside the social media spectrum, other conceptualisations have included it. In her exploration of social media as communicative genres, Lomborg notes that “older communication forms” such as email have been included with definitions of social media.

While to date it has proved difficult to fit email within my investigation as a social media platform, increasingly I am interested in including my email usage within my project,

Google Maps
On a van trip, directions are a very important part of day to day journeying. Knowing the precise location of a certain attraction, and how to get there, makes visiting it seem much more appealing. In this way Google maps have been a very useful tool during the trip and have aided us in doing or seeing more than we could with paper maps alone (or our navi for that matter which was a bit of a pain to use).

Travel Information
This is things like currency conversion rates, hotel search and information about services or attractions. Can we see and do more with Google at our side? Or do we speed so much time searching for information that we get out less? Depending on the degree of trust which one places in search results and how much research one chooses to do comparing different pages, information search can be a complex and time consuming task. That said, I see it as a helper rather than hinderer.

Swell Check
I like surfing and one of the key parts of the routine of most modern surfers is checking online forecasting websites. These allow the prediction of wave height and conditions a week (or more) in advance and thus the planning or finetuning of trip itineraries. I check in here every other day to help plan our movements.

Recreation
Youtube, news sites, sports results and content aggregators. This is a new facet to travel in which the traveler moves with their favourite entertainment and up to date information in their pocket. The traveler may take time from their travel itinerary to relax and catch up with the latest news (or may forego this kind of activity as its association with ‘home’ routines i.e. travel as disconnection…). Again most days I’m checking in on the types of sites mentioned here either for information or to unwind or both.

Conclusion:
The Internet forms a valuable travel tool from not only a communication ( i.e. social media) but also information, planning and recreational perspectives. Between which Internet usage is a daily reality of my trip.

Fuchs, Christian. 2015. Culture and Economy in the Age of Social Media. New York: Routledge.

Lomborg, Stine. 2011. Social media as communicative genres. MedieKultur, 27(51), 55-71.  

Interruptions to Social Media Use

Throughout this trip I have been aiming to update and monitor my online travel narrative at regular intervals. About 2 hours per day spent narrativising travel for social media feels right (Roughly, one hour for offline preparation (drafting/editing photos/drawing) and one hour sharing my experiences online) with a slightly uneven spread favouring Facebook and Instagram/Tumblr over my other platforms.

There have, however, been unforeseen events in my journey which have affected my ability to share my travel experiences in a consistent manner.

1. I left my Iphone in a hotel room

This, sadly, is my speciality. Placing important things in strange locations and leaving them behind. As fortune would have it, the day I lost my phone also happened to be one of the longest driving days of our trip. This meant that by the time I realised my phone was missing that evening we were already far from the hotel. The town we had arrived to was remote and had no postal service. I rang up the hotel over a scratchy connection from a public phone and was told that, yes, they had found my phone and they would not mind keeping it there until I could figure out some way to pick it up. The best part of a week passed before we moved on to our next stop. It was a move in the opposite direction but it was a bigger town and I was able to hire a courier service to retrieve my phone. I am currently still waiting for it to arrive. Not having my phone has significant repercusions on my online storytelling: While I am able to keep narrativising my trip on most platforms using my computer, I am not able to use my Instagram account without my smartphone meaning that my narrative on this platform has not been updated for more than a week. As a workaround, I could ask my wife if I might download the app and do my posting on her phone but this seems awkward. Smartphones are intensely personal devices and I feel like I would be imposing asking to use her phone everyday in order to upload photos. Secondly, I have lost a device which I often use for taking photographs. Not having my phone on me for the last week means I will have a palpable hole in my photographic record of the trip. Finally, I am unable to contact certain people who I have been communicating with on the social media platform Line (as the Internet connection is not strong enough for me to download this application on my computer) and as such I am suddenly and unexplainedly absent from semi-daily conversations I was having here.

The fact that smartphones are extremely personal devices means that if one misplaces their device it will prove difficult if not impossible for them to consistently narrativise their journey. This seems to create an ultimatum: the traveller will need to choose which is more important, the physical or online journey. If the traveller’s ‘social media pilgrimage’ (commitment to sharing travel events on social media) is strong, the traveller will focus on regathering (or repairing, or replacing) their phone despite the time/monetary costs of this exercise. If the traveller’s ‘social media pilgrimage’ is low they will continue to travel as per usual, while accepting certain limitations in the recording and narrativising of their trip.

2. Slow Internet connections.

I like surfing. Many places that have good (i.e. uncrowded) surfing are small fishing towns in the middle of nowhere (sometimes these small towns are the base from which you venture out into even more disconnected locations!). While more and more, the Internet is finding its way into the remote corners of our planet (perhaps brought by tourists as are the increased business opportunities for any locale able to boast a connection…), not all connections are created equal. In remote locations, Internet connections are typically slow and inconsistent.  While I have been generally fine conducting the text based parts of my travel storytelling in these places, uploading images is another story all together. In the remote towns I have been to upload speeds have been generally insufficient for posting photos, resulting in a prolonged wait before an error message. This inability to upload photos means that visual story telling is temporarily put on hold until the traveller finds a stronger connection.  Again, depending on how strong the traveller’s ‘social media pilgrimage’ is they might avoid remote places all together preferring to travel between well-amenitied hubs. What we might also see here is that in these days of image sharing, upload speeds can matter as much (if not more) than download speeds.

upload error-001

The dreaded ‘upload error’ message.

Connected in the Desert (Baja California)

Last Monday, Kumi and I crossed the border into Mexico. Through the first three hours of the journey down the toll road past the seaside resort towns of Rosarito and Ensenada the feeling of proximity to the United States is overt. Passing through we stopped at the office of one of the Mexican telecommunications companies in order to buy a local cellphone and a portable modem. We hope these will help us keep our communications in order as we go and figured that, staying for two months, it would be better to shell out for our own rather than rely on cafes and hotels. As we moved further south the landscape became gradually more desolate, the dirt roads and cactus that the Baja peninsula is famous for. The downs grew smaller and less frequent and even the petrol stations began to fall away – a solid 4 hour drive between them at one point. Our new cellphone and modem had long ago lost service, and, yet, along the way, at small cafes, hotels and RV parks (presumably serviced by travellers coming down North America), signs for wifi kept popping up. These came in stark contrast to the desert surroundings and general lack of connectedness (these remote locations frequently do not have other facilities such as phone signal, water supply, postal service or state electricity). I assume now, having seen an advertisement while driving along an unpaved road in a remote town popular with tourist surfers and fishers, that the wifi service is provided by satellite. The fact that wifi is available speaks to how strong the average traveller’s desire to connect is, and the fact a wifi connection can provide a good way of attracting customers (and, potentially, prolonging their stay).

While me and my wife have been surprised at the availability of wifi in all of the locations we have visited so far in Baja, a connection itself is not necessarily a guarantee that one will be able to access and use their social media portals. So far the quality of connection here in Baja California has depended on the size of the town (bigger is better), amount of people connected (less is faster), and, even the weather (in one location, wind, apparently, wasn’t good for the connection). A slow or unstable connection can provide more frustration than satisfaction, and, in most locations updating photos has been a difficult proposition resulting in prolonged loading screens, or recurrent error messages.

Next comes the more populated area of southern Baja (Los Cabos and La Paz) which I assume will be more connected. From there, I will also set about the task of retrieving my smartphone which I left in a hotel up north, an event that has left a sizey (though inconsistent) hole in my online travel narratives….

1

A road sign graffitied to include wifi access.

2

The place that offers the wifi (note the satelite and solar panels)

3

An advertisement for an RV park a little south.

4

Advertisement for satelite Internet in a remote town with a large expat community.

5

Data hungry travellers

Exposure to External Information Through Social Media Start-up Pages.

A post from the south of Baja California

What I am interested in here is looking at what is the minimum amount of external information the user is exposed to when they log in to their social media portals, and, what kind of information this comprises (i.e.  posts from other users, sponsored posts, posts from news agencies, recommended posts from the platform itself, advertisements….)

These observations all relate to social media platforms as accessed from a computer (rather than a mobile) and only the initial screen which appears before the user after they log in (i.e. no scrolling down).

Tumblr:

tumblr-001

Mildly busy and a little trendy.

1) The most recent post from the pool of users I follow
2) 4 blogs recommended to me by Tumblr (seemingly recommended based on the users I follow already)
3) A post recommended by the Tumblr “Radar” (An ‘editor’s pick’ service which shows an interesting post from another user)

Instagram:

insta-001

Quite a calm white background and little clutter.

1) Suggested users to follow (seemingly recommended by location…)
2) The most recent post from the pool of users I follow

WordPress

wordpress-001

A simple, no nonsense work desk.

1) A post from discover.wordpress.com (An ‘editor’s pick’ service which shows an interesting post from another user)

Vimeo

vimeo-001

Lots of information relating to the platform itself.

1) An update from the Vimeo staff blog
2)The video which was added most recently to Vimeo Staff Picks (this might also include videos added by the users I follow…)
3) An advertisement for the latest Vimeo podcast
4) An invitation to upgrade to the Vimeo Pro (paid service)

Facebook

The most visually intense of all start up pages. Personalised updates literally fill the page.

1) A post from a friend (famously, this is decided by algorithim to be the post which is most relevant to me since I logged in last)
2) A pending event invitation (unnamed)
3) The names of my contacts who’s birthday it is
4)Pending friend requests
5) People I may know (i.e suggested users to add as friends)
6) Information  about new posts in groups that I am a member of
7) Red tags which indicate the number of  new notifications/friend requests/ messages I have recieved

Observations on social media start-up pages:

The user is inescapably exposed to external information when they log in.

The majority of external information is content by other users.

It is recent information (only Facebook presents posts by relevance).

The user is connected by default to editor’s pick services.

The more involved in the platform the more info one is likely to see (updates/notifications).

Finally, start up screens are dynamic, (Facebook’s changed as I scrolled up and down) and can change depending on pending communications/requests. Thus I’ll have to try this experiment again in the future to see if anything changes.