Travel Column Highlights and Lowlights…

Is it really a vacation if you can’t leave your phone at home?

Travel Highlights

Dear Ms. Smartphone is on the road this week for Spring Break. She will be back in time for next week’s column. There are so many details to go over when you travel these days. So, here are four excerpts, travel highlights, from recent columns. But, no advice here for the mega-issue: is it truly a vacation if you can’t leave your phone at home?! J.G.

Fake Locations?

6/6/2021

…..The “Death of Distance” is not a trivial problem. This past summer I answered a question from a reader who lamented that her vacation planning was limited by choices she got from the search-engine. It turned out there were other options but they had not been “up-listed” (i.e., paid) to show up. At the end of the day, we want to help and support local businesses but it’s the bigger companies, and the younger, more tech savvy owners that know how to optimize SEO to their advantage.

Identifying a local business is no longer as simple as thumbing through a print catalog called the yellow pages. Even back then, the business addresses were a combination of listings that were no-fee and paid-fee. Going forward, you might want to combat Internet with Internet. Consider using a platform, say Nextdoor, in your new community. First, they will verify your physical address. If you read posts carefully and slowly you can usually sort out real recommendations by real people. ……….

Are Paper Maps Obsolete?

2/6/2022

…..The paper map gives viewers the big picture, a birds eye view, e.g., the layout of the entire community. That’s helpful when they want to assess the proximity of say parks, schools, and open spaces and triangulate an optimal place to settle. As people seek more sustainable ways  to move about, they need to picture a home within the larger neighborhoods that surround it.  The maps on our phones make it hard too zoom out to these levels or assist drivers, like me, with the  “Champs Elysees” effect-  namely thoroughfares that tee off on 45 degree tangents.

But, a digital map offers more information in terms of getting from point A to point B, and optimizing the travel route.  It is a remarkable feature that enables turn-by-turn, step-by-step directions. It might be safer too, since there are voice commands to guide us without looking down. Digital maps help drivers and pedestrians alike anticipate what’s up ahead. The digital map can do many things not found on paper- it will display elevations, street views, and importantly, up-to-date road closures. These are new found advantages. And, instead of getting lost, we get to explore new arenas and neighborhoods! ……

Trip Planning Online?

11/7/2019

…..Online maps will help you get from point A to B, but in other ways might narrow your adventures. They typically program you to take the most efficient route, although scenic routes can be found in the ‘alt’ settings. An online map makes you seek a destination so you might miss a detour that captures spur-of-the-moment interest. Entering “What’s Near Me” on Google maps  helps but remember that what loads first is often a paid-for-ad. I personally begin every long trip with a big-old fold out road map. The bigger screen for a map display, say on the IPad, is spotty without cellular service. ….

…. guide books should help you go deeper than the ‘top ten’ to discover the  cultural background and history of places you visit. How did this community get settled and what do people do there?……

 When we take a trip to someone else’s community we are dropping in:  it’s important to honor their local values and traditions. Some of that tradition might be found in places or occasions: say  the baseball stadium, the annual county fair, the pancake breakfast fundraiser, and the bimonthly antique show. If you exclusively search online, you might drive right past it. ……..

Digital Passport on Smartphone?

(for an March, 2022 update on the safety of the digital passport follow this link:)

1/16/2022

…..Now many countries, including the UK and Canada, require a digital declaration or a  passenger location form to enter. Canada (Jan. 2022) asks that the named traveler set up an online account with a password, and then populate it prior to travel with the Covid test results, an image of the passport, and flight information. ….. (you) must be conversant not only with digital email, but also with taking and forwarding jpegs, and remembering those pesky passwords! 

These forms get reviewed by the authorities before you enter the country,  but to clear immigration at the airport the details will need to be retrieved by a barcode, or completely re-entered  into a machine. That’s where it could get tricky for Grandma if she tries to  retrieve them on her phone. Hopefully there will be staff standing by to help her.  By the way, if you remind her to  save these as images then she will not need to face the added complexity of  accessing WiFi at the airport. I find that lots of people don’t understand the differences when they travel of keeping the phone on local cellular service, using roaming, or jumping on local WiFi. The WiFi can unwittingly open up security vulnerabilities………..

Cell Phone in the Car?

Dad and husband are hung up on my car phone. Cannot hang it up!

A cartoon showing rear window of a car with stick figures for mom, dad, kids, and mom's phone.
Cell Phone in Car? image credit:Tom Whyatt

Dear Ms. Smartphone:  We got a new car that has an Android Auto dashboard and it feels much safer than my old car. I can answer a cell phone in the car from a click on the steering wheel. But,  both my husband and Dad are insisting that I not use a cell phone in the car. They do not have my responsibilities! We have two children and a new baby. It seems like I am on the road all day picking up or dropping off. When I use the cell phone in the car the time passes faster and I do not have as much catch up at home. I am a safe driver and of the opinion that they are not experienced with these newer features. Leah, Claremont

Dear Leah: You have probably seen those yellow stickers on the back of car windows that say “Baby on Board” or “Precious Cargo.” No matter what age group we drive it’s vital to keep that in mind. 

On the subject of Android Auto & CarPlay safety, I am not an expert and technology has evolved since I first started this column. Researchers typically evaluate 3 sources of cell phone distraction in the car: visual distraction, manual distraction, and  cognitive distraction. Your hands-free dashboard helps reduce the manual distraction for incoming calls. It’s a little trickier to reduce visual distractions for outgoing calls but voice commands can dial the phone number (or text). Older people, perhaps like your Dad, have been found to be slower to understand and deploy such features. 

That said, there is more to safety than physically using a phone to call or text. Cognitive distraction occurs because  we have limited processing ability. The mental faculties we need to keep that 3,500 lb people-mover positioned between lines and avoid collisions are also used for speech, visualization, and memory- the stuff of two way conversation. For more insight into cognitive distraction, look here. Most of the time we have the cognitive bandwidth to process the road and the talk. Yet it’s those one-off moments when you do not, and there are unanticipated hazards. Drivers cannot organize or anticipate these. 

Reduce Time & Effort:

To reduce the risk, here are two recommendations: first, make these hands-free  phone calls very short. A short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ conversation, or ‘be there in ten minutes’ is going to be less cognitively taxing than an intricate discussion say with your loan agent or insurance company. Second, limit the number of these conversations. The longer you spend driving and chatting, the greater the likelihood that you will encounter some danger. 

That said, you have another option. In the spirit of what your husband and Dad recommend, you can always pull off to the side of the road or find a parking lot. Take your longer calls (or texts) from there. 

Modeling You!

But, I have a deeper concern. You mentioned that you have three children in the car. When  you spend time there on the phone you are implicitly  teaching these youngsters that is an acceptable behavior. So, when they become teens you should not be surprised if they too drive with phones and model you.  Young children constantly observe what their parents do and say. I am guessing that you do not want to teach them that phones come first, family time comes second, and road safety is third. 

So, not to shame you- mothers have too much on their plates- but it is important to engage in  real conversations with your children, even when you are firmly planted in the driver’s seat. Some of our best conversations can be side by side, looking out the window. You will learn a lot about your childrens’ days at school, friendships, and current interests if you ask questions and listen carefully. If it’s hard to get started, engage them with wayfaring  (see DearSmartphone column) and the local geography. If that doesn’t suit you, seek out a local carpool with nearby families. 

It’s hard to imagine travel in cars without phones these days- they help us navigate to places, anticipate the traffic, and update those last minute shopping lists. But phones should never  squeeze out the precious moments we have with our children, and send them a message that cell phones get answered first.  

Are Paper Maps Obsolete?

The paper map and the digital map are both useful visualizations- use them in concert with each other.

A sketch of two cartoon like hikers looking at a giant ipad that displays a map for directions.
Are paper maps obsolete?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I recently graduated from college and went to work in real estate.  It’s a small office on a busy street. At least twice a week people come in asking for a paper map of our community.  I guess my office used to do this. But, I don’t understand the need. Didn’t the Internet make paper maps obsolete?  It’s easy to see all the open-houses on an app. Plus Google maps then provides the driving or walking directions to get to them. Am I missing something? Daniel, Boston

Dear Daniel: Perhaps your office is missing out on a “goodwill” marketing opportunity! There is irony that we want to shop local, but have to rely on a big national digital map service to identify these places! GenX, GenZ, and Baby Boomers might find agreement on this one.

Local businesses, many of them realtors, used to hand out one-page community maps. These local maps were sponsored (paid for) by display ads from merchants who inserted an ad or a landing dot on the layout.  Surely most of these maps got tossed, but for a few, perhaps a souvenir? More likely, for newcomers and tourists, these inexpensive maps served as both an orienting tool and an initial intro to local business. 

Migration of Advertising

Today that local advertising has migrated from newspapers and free-maps to Internet ads. They are surely less comprehensive than the the old yellow page directory and can lead viewers looking for local information astray, as I have previously noted. But as you say, digital maps do offer brand new features that leave static maps in the dust. I posit that we are looking at two different cognitive streams and ways of interpreting data.  Both of them are useful for your walk-in real estate clients. 

First, the paper map gives viewers the big picture, a birds eye view, e.g., the layout of the entire community. That’s helpful when they want to assess the proximity of say parks, schools, and open spaces and triangulate an optimal place to settle. As people seek more sustainable ways  move about, they need to picture a home within the larger neighborhoods that surround it.  The maps on our phones make it hard too zoom out to these levels. They also help drivers, like me, assess the  “Champs Elysees” effect-  namely thoroughfares that tee off on 45 degree tangents.

The Case for Digital:

But, a digital map offers more information in terms of getting from point A to point B, and optimizing the travel route.  It is a remarkable feature that enables turn-by-turn, or step-by-step directions. It might be safer too, since there are voice commands to guide us without looking down. Digital maps help drivers and pedestrians alike can anticipate what’s up ahead. The digital map can do many things not found on paper- it will display elevations, street views, and importantly, up-to-date road closures. These are new found advantages. And, instead of getting lost, we get to explore new arenas and neighborhoods!

Two Channels & One Stream:

So, both digital maps and paper ones provide useful visualizations, but we process their information  in separate channels. We need to use them as complements, for different audiences and different applications. 

There is a big map store in your area, called Ward Maps, and it is still open. Success. The concierge at bigger hotels probably hand out one-page flat maps too. The autoclub would be another source for a paper map, but these layouts are oriented towards driving routes, not neighborhood businesses. Finally,  a City Hall department (transportation?)  might be another place to check for community maps. If you don’t find a suitable map to hand out in your real estate office, perhaps it’s time to imprint your own. Missing a map as  a missed opportunity?