I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with a site called TripAdvisor. If you don’t travel much or you haven’t come across it before, it’s the Lonely Planet of the digital age, except they don’t editorialise… it’s all crowdsourced.
I had such a bad experience at a restaurant in Bangkok a while back that I felt the need to vent (or as I like to think of it, give friendly advice to other travellers). While I was there I also posted a few good discoveries I’d made. Then a few months later I started posting some reviews of places in Johor Bahru in Malaysia, because its coverage on the site was so dusty that it made it seem like a sad whistle-stop of two factories and a bus station.
Not only did I give, but I received as well. I discovered the pleasures of crowdsourced travel and the question of “where should we go for dinner?” became an adventure again.
But then I had a crisis of conscience. While I certainly appreciated the sneak insights offered by others, what was I doing giving away my favourite travel secrets? Next time I go to that little cafe I know in JB that does the French Press coffee and the addictive Korean breakfast rolls, will it be over-run with tourists, iPads propped against the centrepiece, ordering the things I ordered and sitting in my chair?
I’m still not sure if it’s just selfishness, perhaps it is, but I like to think that what my crisis was really about was the death of serendipity. I didn’t like Lonely Planet back in my backpacking days (although I’d gratefully sneak a look at one from a fellow traveller whenever I got the chance) and I’m not sure I care for its modern substitute. I can hear its siren call, but I’ve been around the block and I’ve heard the sailor stories.
THE BEAUTY OF SERENDIPITY
I wonder to what extent this crowdsourced attempt we make to eliminate accidents from our life makes our lives smaller? Should some things, perhaps, be left to chance?
In “Theory of the Dérive”, Guy Debord, presiding genius of the 1950s artist-revolutionary group The Situationist International writes:
Among the various situationists methods is the dérive [literally: drifting], a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances. The dérive entails playful constructive-behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects: which completely distinguishes it from the classical notions of the journey and the stroll.
Basically, what Debord is recommending is a walk without purpose, embracing randomness and curiosity. He recommends “slipping into houses undergoing demolition, wandering in subterranean catacombs forbidden to the public, starting up conversations with various passerby” and generally embracing the infinite possibilities and experiences open to someone willing to trod untrodden ways.
THE COMPLEXITIES OF BDSM FORUM BOARDS
This kind of brings me, in a round-about way, to FetLife (and other BDSM forum boards). For every niche tool we want to learn, technique we want to master, or psychological or life problem we are dealing with, there is a forum group ready to give advice, and in some cases fairly stringent guidelines.
My most recent experience of this is Polyamory boards. It’s an area where I’ve been on a steep learning curve for the past couple of years, so I’ve paid more attention to discussions on this topic.
The largest group I am a member of, FetLife’s Poly & Kinky, has almost a hive mind when it comes to Poly matters. Unicorn hunters are evil, jealousy should be dealt with in a particular way, couples who invite a third to their relationship have unfair privilege, the list goes on. Group members are poised like vultures for the unsuspecting poster to ask questions about looking for an additional partner and then they swoop and tear the meat from his or her bones.
I don’t advocate not doing a little research or trying to minimise risks for anything (and everything) that we do. But, I worry that as it becomes easier and easier to walk in other people’s footsteps, we settle for the predictable at the cost of the serendipitous. Often it’s finding our own path that forms the tapestry of our memories, making our lives uniquely ours… not to mention the opportunities it might bring.
FOLLOWING OUR OWN INSTINCTS
You’re probably familiar with exercises focused on listening to your body and understanding what different parts are telling you about decisions you are trying to make. I wrote a piece a while ago called Decisions in Your D/s Relationship – Head vs Heart that deals with this. The mind (head) is a powerful friend, and it’s the one we tend to place the most emphasis on in our Western culture. It’s also the one I think is nurtured the most by crowdsourced reviews. We love to research and analyse, and we see it as the magical doorway to “right” decisions.
But what about “gut feeling”, instinct or just random attraction for no reason that we can understand? What about coincidence, happenstance and serendipity? If we try to push that out of our lives, then are we not only diminishing our own opportunities but also our own personal power?
I remember on the backpacker trail the hoards of travellers with their nose in “the book”, sitting in cafes that had long ago got lazy and let their standards slip, or squeezing into the last room of an overcrowded hostel while equally good or better ones lay empty only a few doors away.
The beaten paths in life are like that. Your risks are reduced, but I wonder at what cost?