Vacations and Behavioral Change

in the 1790's "breaking news" was 2 weeks old
My how culture has shifted.

I love going on vacations for many reasons, but my favorite might be the chance to track the changing behavior-patterns of vacationers over time.  Yes, I’m a geek (and probably a nerd) – I can’t help it.

The first “vacation” I ever took with my wife was our honeymoon to Williamsburg, VA.  As we prepared for the trip we made sure that we had a camera to take pictures of our first trip there.  Being 1997, we got a simple point and shoot film camera.  During our meandering through the Historic Area, that’s what I saw everyone using.

We’ve been back many times over the years, and it’s been fun to see how cameras have shifted over the years.  In the early 2000’s I began to see a 50/50 split between digital and film point and shoot cameras.  By 2008 nearly everyone was using a digital point and shoot camera, with a smattering of people using their camera phones.  Last summer I still saw some digital point and shoot cameras being used, but I noticed more camera phones in use than in 2008.  This summer, the number of digital point and shoot cameras I observed being used was non-existant.  Most people were using either camera phones or pocket camcorders to capture their memories.  Also, for the first time, I noticed quite a few people using DSLR’s as their cameras.  There had always been some “serious” photographers out with their impressive cameras in Williamsburg, but they were always few and far between.  It seems that, as devices have converged into “the camera on hand” (usually our phones) photography as a hobby may be making a bit of a come back.  It doesn’t hurt that DSLR prices are dropping into consumer ranges, either.

Another trend I noticed over time was the use of computers in Williamsburg.  In 1997 you didn’t see a computer anywhere except the at the check-in counter.  As the years passed, and digital cameras came to the fore, laptops became commonplace.  As non-business types began to bring laptops, the Williamsburg hotels offered free internet (first wired, and then wireless).  This was the norm from the early 2000’s right up until last summer.  It was normal to see people in the lobbies, dining areas, and the pool tapping away on their laptop keyboards.  Between this summer and last, however, there seems to have been a radical shift in vacation computing, and one which happened a lot faster than the shift from film to digital cameras.  Seeing someone one a laptop suddenly became a rare occurrence – instead, tablets (specifically iPads) were everywhere. I saw them at the pool, in the lobbies, and in the dining rooms.  I even saw someone using a Xoom as his camera in the Historic Area.

Finally, this was also the first time I saw QR Codes in use (though this was at Jamestown Island, not Williamsburg).  The codes went to web-links which had more details on the different archaeological sites being presented on the island (and correctly formatted for mobile, well-done!).

What I saw in these shifts in vacation technology is a shift in our culture in general.  We went from analog to digital, wired to wireless, and local syncing to mobile sharing in the span of 14 years.  The way people record, store, and share their memories has completely shifted to lighter, faster, and more compact foregoing physical media altogether.  From a geek’s perspective, it’s been fun to watch.  From a communicator’s perspective, it’s exciting to explore how to use this behavioral shift to reach out and interact with people.  From a pastoral perspective, it’s daunting.  Churches need to wake up to this massive shift in behavior and adapt to it.  After all, if people are now changing (or have changed) the way they store their important family memories – it means that they are most likely changing the way they “remember” data in general.  Here are some examples:

  • If people eschew physical media on vacation as an unnecessary encumbrance why do we insist on relying on overflowing bulletins to pass information to people?
  • If people are used to being able to share memories instantly while on vacation – why do churches tend to wait until “next month’s meeting” to share thoughts?
  • If presentations are being augmented through mobile technology – why aren’t churches using similar technology to illuminate our peculiar culture?  We could explain liturgy, the movement of the Church calendar, explain the current sermon series, explain the images found in stained-glass, and even explain the history of the building (if it has a history worth-telling).
These are just some of the thought I take from my vacation observations (many of which I shared before).  The use of QR Codes, however, might be a project that I experiment with this summer.