Monday, September 17, 2007

youth hostels and learning about the use of technology by young travellers

Since receiving the nice amount of money as part of my award for tertiary excellence, I have had some light hearted ribbing from my colleagues about my predilection for staying at backpacker type accommodation when I travel out of town for work related conferences (in NZ & overseas). So this is a good place to explain my fondness for youth hostels.

The major reason I enjoy staying in youth hostels, is the opportunity to indulge in some serious people watching. It is too good an opportunity not to make use of as a mLearning researcher! The majority of people who turn up at backpackers are young travellers, usually in their twenties. Over the last five years, I have noted the increase in and a change in the types of technology that young travellers carry with them. Digital cameras used to be standard, but now, not everyone carries a digital camera, instead mobile phones and an mp3 players seem to be the de riguer. There is also an increase in young travellers who travel with a laptop.

Asking questions about a young person’s mobile phone, or mp3 player is a good conversational starter. From my travels, I have found that NZ is not mobile phone friendly for the foreign visitor. However, most young Asian travellers now use their mobile phone as a camera, so loosing the use of the mobile phone as a communicator is not too much of an inconvenience. I have also seen the mobile phone used as a calculator, currency converter, translator / dictionary, memo pad, map, torch etc.

Internet linked computers at most youth hostels are in use 24/7. Many young travellers make use of computers to organise all of their travel, completing their bookings for transport, accommodation and activities via online bookings. Savvy backpacker entrepreneurs have websites not only in English but in Spanish & Japanese. YHA’s that I have used in NZ, Australia & Canada all have computers that run off a standard cash card so that travellers can use these cards to pay for the time used on youth hostel computers within each country.

Travellers keep in touch with friends (& family) via email but many I have met recently (especially North Americans & Europeans) maintain their own blogs or social websites. One page on my memo pad in my Treo is filled with hotmail / gmail , blogger / facebook & myspace addresses (plus their Japanese / Korean versions) of people I have struck up conversations with at backpackers. Social site addresses have increased over the last couple of years. The use of moblogging is rare (due to mobile phones being linked to the travellers' home telecommunications provider).

I suppose I might be able to observe similar things if I stayed in a hotel as business ‘road warriors’ are now a common sight in hotel lobbies with their wireless laptops and mobile phones. However, the culture, architecture and organisation of the average backpacker’s, encourages the solo traveller to interact with their fellow travellers. A nosy middle aged woman who asks questions about what sort of mobile phone one uses does not seem too out of place :)

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