Vacation Thoughts

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?

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8 Comments

  1. The technology I have enjoyed the most is my Treo (700p). I have my scriptures on it (MarkMyScriptures), but I also have some ebooks (like John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”) to read in the car with my wife, and then I can check my email without opening up a laptop (and looking like I am not vacationing). I also like using Google’s text message feature to check stocks, that is very neat.

    My favorite historical sites is probably a tie between the Sacred Grove (and the Smith Farm) and Far West. We live in Missouri so we’ve been to the west side of the state several times. Every time I go to Far West, I have an inspiring experience. There really is nothing there, you’re in the middle of nowhere. But then you pull over and the grass is lush, the land is perfect, and then there are the four cornerstones of the temple. You know Joseph Smith and others stood exactly where you are, because it really isn’t that big. The sunset is extraordinary there.

    I agree on the GPS-aware historical data feed gadget, that would rock. I’d buy one.

  2. I’d love to have GPS as well, but I think that is a ways off for most people.

    I’ve long thought that the church should post “Info Phone Numbers” at the different church site so people could call that number on their cell phone and hear a recorded message about that location. So many times I have visited church sites and seen no one there representing the church. I think there is a missed opportunity there if non-members visited.

    Perhaps the recorded message could end with “Please press one if you’d like to talk to a representative from teh church.”

  3. I don’t use MarkMyScriptures, but I used to, and loved it for one feature it has that none of the others did at the time: You could set it to automatically scroll at any speed. That was a great way to force myself to read all sorts of things without spending too much time. So even though I haven’t used it in five years, I hereby plug it.

    As for my vacations, my WiFi-enabled laptop is all I need. But GoogleEarth, with its new 3D textured buildings, and a GPS would be great. And NetStumbler coupled with said GPS to find networks. I will not stay at a hotel that charges for WiFi.

  4. Actually, Paul, it is quite funny that I am reading this blog. I just got back on Saturday from a vacation to England. My husband served his LDS mission there so he got to visit a lot of his friends.
    We went to Wales first, then to Wakefield, then to York (we saw the York Minster) and then to London for a day.
    It was actually quite interesting because I took no electronics with me. I had no computer, palm pilot or cell phone. I didn’t have any connection with anyone in the US for a whole 10 days and I couldn’t have loved it more.
    We of course took still and video cameras and I documented the things I wanted to learn more about.
    On the way home, in Newark NJ airport, there was a Sprint advertising board that said “Say Yes to making just about any place a work place.” It might have been because I had just spent a whole week not checking email, not being bothered by calls, that I was immediately turned off.
    I will say this, I would have loved having a GPS instead of trying to figure out the round abouts myself!

  5. RisingSunofNihon

    Hi, I found your blog through a link on another site. I just wanted to comment about Hiroshima here. If you ever have a chance to visit Japan, I urge you to go to the Peace Park and A-Bomb museum in Hiroshima. It was one of the most sobering, thought-provoking places I’ve ever been to (and I consider myself to be well-traveled). From the sounds of your post, it seems like you would get a lot out of Hiroshima.

  6. Russell Page

    Pamyra is great. Did you know that at the time Grandin started his press, there were only two others like it in the country? New York City and Chicago. Interesting that a tiny town on the Erie canal would have a press that could print so many books.

    I personally loved visiting Mt. Vernon. It is so peacful, and it just seems like the kind of place where George Washington could think about this country and have thoughts come to his mind.

  7. Blake Snow

    Yeah, New York is a fun place. Regarding technology on vacation, I’ll work to much on a PC but at least the BB gets me the necessities without tempting me to work too much.

    Someday I want to go on a month long vacation and take no technology. No cell phone, no laptop, nothin’. Heck, I’d even like to ditch a phone altogether for an entire year!

  8. Lorri Randle Blog : Vacation

    […] Vacation I just got back from a 10 day hiatus to England and Wales and was catching up on my blog reading when I came across this one from Paul Allen which talks a little about electronics on vacation. I had to laugh a little because I went the whole trip, the whole 10 days with the video camera as my only elctronic device. My husband and I decided we wanted to take a complete break from the world and truly enjoy siteseeing. We didn’t have any palm pilot, computer or even cell phone. Although I think we both wished we had a GPS instead of paper maps, I don’t think either of us could have enjoyed the experience any more!Then on the way home from England at the Newark New Jersey airport we saw this Sprint advertising board. It reads: “Say Yes to making just about any place a work place.” I understand that the point of this campaign is to show how Sprint is giving their customers more power to do what they want where they want, but at that very moment when I saw this, I was immediatley turned off.Maybe it was because I had just spent a very peaceful 10 days not having to worry that during my meal, my phone might go off. I couldn’t have cared less that 8 of the 10 days I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast there wasn’t any internet connection. It was very nice to go see sights instead of looking for an interent hot spot.With my husband and I working for the same company, CopperRain, we found ourselves constantly talking about work issues over dinner, before we went to bed, even on dates! This hiatus of ours to England without any distractions helped me fall deeper in love with the man I married. We talked about the past, about us and about our future family dreams.Sometimes, I think the world focuses too much on the side of making money instead of making memories. With the emerging portable electronic devices, it is much easier to miss the world around us. I’m not saying this is all bad, but set limits for yourself. Your business is not you, your work is not your life. There is a difference between a hard worker and a workaholic. Published Friday, August 25, 2006 5:36 PM by LorriRandle […]

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