Long before the advent of the Internet and the globalization of travel, medals and badges on military uniforms recognized participation in campaigns and tours of duty. A recent book, Lest We Forget, by Judith Price, assembles military ribbons, medals, badges and other regalia to create a visual chronicle of 250 years of Western history.
I imagine most serious travelers have concluded their more arduous travels feeling like the completion of a tour of duty, of sorts. I know I have. And many of us can record our own compelling histories using travel trophies collected over the years. Like Ms. Price’s book, it’s hardly an idle endeavor. It can help to remind who we were, and why we changed along the way.
Yet times are changing, too. Photo postcards, once mailed home with handwritten travel reminisces and later assembled, are less popular with emergence of the Internet and cell phones, making communications and photography cheaper and easier. Interesting and elaborate hostel logos, once rubber-stamped into passport-like booklets at check-in and collected by travelers, disappeared over a decade ago in the name of cost and efficiency. And while backpacks remain a potential site for travelers’ patches from cities and countries visited, the colorful fabric pieces seem to have receded, perhaps with sewing skills.
The purpose here is not to lament the decline of postcards, rubber stamps and sewing. But rather to welcome the emergence of a worthy and welcome successor … social media.
The emergence of location based services such as Facebook Places and Four Square enables users to earn virtual badges by checking in at partner businesses. Sound familiar? As these services are more widely embraced by museums, cultural and tourist destinations, including our hostels, we may see emerging a popular new form of an old idea: the personal travel chronicle.
The “gamification” of social media is driven by very practical business motives like brand recognition and promotion, sometimes with unintended results. For travelers, it creates a space to profile and recount travels through badges earned (places visited). And as important for those who share their profiles, desireable badges create a real motivation for conversation with each other.
Of course virtual “badges” and social media don’t have a place in the span of Ms. Price’s chronicle. Yet for travelers, the time is now. For travelers, social media can be credited with replacing post cards, rubber stamps and sewing.