I was in New York last week on vacation, having too much fun to blog. But I did use technology (my Blackberry of course for email, phone and web browsing, and my laptop with high-speed wireless internet from Verizon) and I thought about it a lot. What technology do I wish I had while on vacation?
First, a bit about our vacation.
The first two days, my wife and I visited Niagara Falls (reading the Wikipedia article about it while overlooking the Canadian falls was awesome), the Sacred Grove (where Joseph Smith saw his first vision), the Grandin Press building in Palmyra (where the Book of Mormon was first printed in 1829-1830), and the Hill Cumorah (where Joseph found the gold plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon.)
I like visiting religious history sites. In 1998 we visited Jerusalem and many holy sites where Jesus lived and taught, and I have been to many other LDS Church history sites in Utah, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, California, Nevada, and Wyoming, but until this trip I had never visited the Smith Farm in Palmyra where the young Joseph Smith began having religious experiences which has shaped the beliefs and values of millions of people ever since, including about 25 of my ancestors who found “Mormonism” in different lands (England, Norway, Denmark, etc.) and embraced it. I am a 5th or 6th generation Mormon and have many ancestors who converted from different faiths and emigrated to the United States and more specifically, who came to Utah in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s.
So the places where prayers were answered and revelations were given and meetings were held and books were printed all have deep significance for me and my family.
For such a trip as this, I wish I had a device (a next generation blackberry or GPS-enabled iPod) that connected me to a vast historical archive of geocoded text, audio and video content. For example, while on the Smith farm, I would have liked listening to clips from lectures by historians such as Truman Madsen or Susan Black about Joseph Smith’s early life and experiences. While at the Grandin Press building, I would have liked to have been able to choose from dozens of audio or video clips from lectures about printing technology in the early 19th century, or seen excerpts from the journals and letters of some of the first few hundred people to read a copy of the Book of Mormon. Local newspapers at the time started calling it the “Gold Bible” and the Book has been misunderstood every since (even though more than 100 million copies of it have been printed and Doubleday became the first major national publisher to issue a version of it last year.)
There is no question that this book has had a huge impact on the lives of millions of people. So would it be too much to ask to have a location-based service tied into my mobile device that gives me the option of learning about the people who brought the book into existence and the early reactions to it?
Next, we spent 6 days in Manhattan, caught seven Broadway shows, and had the time of our life. While in New York, we learned to take the subway (I like the little refillable Metro cards — no more tokens!) and to get around pretty well.
We love New York City. Just four months after 9/11 my wife and I had to visit Ground Zero and pay our respects to the victims of that attack and the heroes and rescuers whom we had admired so much from a distance. We haven’t been back together since.
This time, the subway took us right to the spot between the twin towers. We spent a few hours walking around, reading the Port Authority panels that tell the story of that fateful day, and looking at hundreds of pieces of art from the children of those who were killed in the World Trade Center attack.
Already it is impossible for us to comprehend what really happened there, only five years ago. Our impression was that as the cleanup and rebuilding proceeds, it will be all too easy for all of us to forget that day, and for visitors to not have any visual concept of the massive scope of the destruction.
At Pearl Harbor you’ve got a permanent memorial built over the sunken USS Arizona, a solemn reminder of the horrors of that day. We need something similar at the World Trade Center site to help us all remember.
On the east side of the site, there is a newly built mall, and on the second floor, large glass windows overlooking the site. We listened as a tour guide pointed out where the towers had been and which direction that planes had come from, and at what speed, and how destruction the building collapses had been. His words really took us back in time so that we could relive the horror of that day. Without a guide, though, it would really be hard to relive history.
As I looked through the huge glass windows, trying to remember what the buildings looked like, I wished that there could be some kind of etching on the glass, or some kind of digital overlay onto the glass, perhaps even animated, so that I could see what the skyline had looked like and so that I could visualize the events of that day.
If we had time, I would have liked to have watched the new Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center at the theater that is next to the World Trade Center site. Watching the film is reportedly a very moving experience. To watch it at the actual location would be even more impactful.
Our vacation included August 6th, which is the anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima, and we watched a documentary film in our hotel room about the great destruction and horror of the first two atomic bombs. We will never forget some of the interviews of the survivors. Again, it is impossible to comprehend something this destructive and awful. When we toured the United Nations, we saw some damaged artifacts from Hiroshima.
I love history, but it scares me too. It scares me so many millions of people, including innocent civilians, have been killed in past wars. It scares me that nations can become so polarized and so hateful. It scares me that leaders of nations can shield their citizens from opposing points of view and that intolerance and hatred can be so easily be fired up among the uninformed masses.
I want to be hopeful about the future. I want to be hopeful that technology and freedom of information will make future generations less likely than past ones to engage in all-out warfare. But I worry that language barriers, cultural differences, foreign policy disagreements, and religious and political polarization will lead to more wars and greater destruction than ever before.
Perhaps one reason I like religious history sites so much is that they are so peaceful and so hopeful, not necessarily because they hold out hope for the world we know, but they remind us of an eternal world to come. They remind me that we are both physical and spiritual beings, and that heaven and earth do sometimes meet–that great religious experiences are possible for those who seek God. They hold out the promise that regardless of what happens in this world, that each of us is a child of God, an immortal being who is on earth to see if we can walk by faith and still show love to our Creator by believing in Him and obeying His will. And if we do, we can hope for a much better world in the life to come.
My ancestors thought so. And I’m sticking with them.
So now, here’s a question for my readers.
What technology have you enjoyed most while vacationing? And what historical sites do you appreciate the most?