How social media helped avoid a vacation photo crisis in Africa
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  ibmredbooks africa ibm_redbooks traveltuesday adam_smye-rumsby social_media
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As the flight attendants threaded their way through the packed cabin in final preparations for takeoff at Dulles International Airport, I obsessively swapped between IBM Connections, Twitter, email and Facebook apps on my iPhone, hitting refresh even though I knew that there was unlikely to have been any meaningful activity in the 10 seconds since I'd last checked. Forlornly preparing to give the mandatory power-down command, I struggled to remember the last time I had voluntarily detached from the Internet for as long as the pending separation that would be enforced while I was in some of the remotest locations in Africa. The only reason my phone was allowed to tag along was because the car service had my number on file and would call me upon arriving back in the US to coordinate pickup.
As the plane roared down the runway, I felt a slight hint of jealousy at family, friends and colleagues I would shortly be leaving behind—what interesting discussions would take place in my absence in the online networks we occupy? What opportunities would knock on a door that I wouldn't be able to answer for 10 long days (by Internet standards) before resurfacing in the tourist town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe? Would those discussions and opportunities even be relevant when I returned? As the wheels came up, thoughts of adventures to come on a vacation years in the making competed with concerns that I had neglected a small but vital aspect of my preparation: how to handle such a sudden and abrupt shift in my relationship with technology.
Technology had played a vital part in getting me to this point. From reading online reviews of travel agents to checking flight schedules to receiving invoices through email, I had decided to entrust the entire planning of this trip to the Internet. I didn't even speak to the travel agent based in South Africa that was making plans on my behalf; I had to trust online reviews that the agency was reliable and communicate with them solely by email. I also noticed that whereas in the US airport advertising encourages consumers to engage with brands through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, text messaging remains popular among airport advertisers in Africa as a way to provide further information about a product or service.
Anyone who has traveled to the Okavango Delta knows it is a sublimely beautiful part of the world. In an area the size of New Jersey can be found one of the richest, most diverse ecosystems on earth. From harsh desert to lush woodland, perfectly-evolved creatures carve out a staggering variety of niches to make their home. My iPhone and I, on the other hand, felt distinctly out of place upon arriving in the bush—myself toting a range of accoutrements provided by science to ensure that I made it back safely to the US with no adverse affects to my immune system, and my cell phone completely lacking any cell towers nearby with which to communicate.
Surprisingly, once I had realized it wouldn't be seemly to beg the camp staff to let me borrow their sole Internet-connected computer so that I could log in to Twitter, it was not as hard to adjust to a disconnected world as friends and family had teased it would be. Training my eyes to distinguish fauna from flora and focusing on my assigned mission to capture a photo of a baby hippopotamus were more than enough of a distraction.
After amazing experiences in the bush that included getting closer than was comfortable to lions, having shoes stolen by baboons and telling stories around the campfire under the gaze of the Milky Way (but not, unfortunately, observing a baby hippo), arriving in Zimbabwe provided an interesting contrast. Despite the markets of Victoria Falls being as humble in appearance as I expected, the entrepreneurial store owners bucked this image. Each of the couple dozen shacks I browsed had a cell phone or two perched on a table or chair being charged. BlackBerry devices with physical keyboards seemed to be the handset of choice. Another interesting observation while exploring Victoria Falls on foot was that I didn't notice anyone facedown in their phone; this is markedly different from the situation in the US, where it seems almost a daily occurrence that I swerve to avoid a multitasking walker.
It was only while getting ready for dinner on the last evening of the trip that I realized I hadn't gone through my usual ritual when checking into the hotel two days prior: that of figuring out the details for logging into WiFi. I had noted when booking the trip that the hotel did in fact have WiFi and had planned to use it sparingly to slowly reintegrate myself with the world it connects me to. However, I now found myself staring at the iPhone in disdain at the thought of reconnecting it with the world—not least because the ping-ping of incoming emails and other alerts would be a stark reminder of obligations that hadn't gone away just because I had.
Feeling proud of myself, I tossed the phone back in the safe and headed out, blissfully unaware of the battery I'd left charging in the corner of the room—a battery that would have been very useful for powering the camera I'd brought along to take pictures of a once-in-a-lifetime trip along the Zambezi river. Fortunately, our dining companions were equally as interested in taking pictures as myself, and better-prepared by virtue of possessing a camera that powered on.
As the sole baby hippo we would encounter on the entire trip inevitably, tentatively poked its head out of the water alongside its mom, technology proved its worth again when I asked if they could share their photos. Sure, came the reply; are you on Facebook? Handing over my business card, I thanked the Australian duo—and technology—profusely for saving my bacon at the conclusion of the trip of a lifetime.
Adam Smye-Rumsby has worked in the information technology industry since 2000 in a variety of roles including database administrator, test analyst, technical support specialist and consultant. In his current role Adam advises clients on how IBM solutions can support them in their journeys to becoming social businesses, with a focus on extracting maximum value from their existing IT investments. He enjoys guiding clients towards their social business “aha” moment, and beyond. Adam is a twice-published IBM Redbooks author and also a contributor to the IBM Social Business Insights blog.
Adam is an IBM Redbooks thought leader.