Welcome to Airspace

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Every time Schwarzmann alights in a foreign city he checks the app, which lists food, nightlife, and entertainment recommendations with the help of a social network-augmented algorithm. Then he heads toward the nearest suggested cafe. But over the past few years, something strange has happened. “Every coffee place looks the same,” Schwarzmann says. The new cafe resembles all the other coffee shops Foursquare suggests, whether in Odessa, Beijing, Los Angeles, or Seoul: the same raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.

It’s not that these generic cafes are part of global chains like Starbucks or Costa Coffee, with designs that spring from the same corporate cookie cutter. Rather, they have all independently decided to adopt the same faux-artisanal aesthetic. Digital platforms like Foursquare are producing “a harmonization of tastes” across the world, Schwarzmann says. “It creates you going to the same place all over again.”

…We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.

It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace, and some people don’t… As an affluent, self-selecting group of people move through spaces linked by technology, particular sensibilities spread, and these small pockets of geography grow to resemble one another, as Schwarzmann discovered: the coffee roaster Four Barrel in San Francisco looks like the Australian Toby’s Estate in Brooklyn looks like The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen looks like Bear Pond Espresso in Tokyo. You can get a dry cortado with perfect latte art at any of them, then Instagram it on a marble countertop and further spread the aesthetic to your followers.

This confluence of style is being accelerated by companies that foster a sense of placelessness, using technology to break down geography. Airbnb is a prominent example. Even as it markets unique places as consumable goods, it helps its users travel without actually having to change their environment, or leave the warm embrace of AirSpace…

The connective emotional grid of social media platforms is what drives the impression of AirSpace. If taste is globalized, then the logical endpoint is a world in which aesthetic diversity decreases. It resembles a kind of gentrification: one that happens concurrently across global urban centers. Just as a gentrifying neighborhood starts to look less diverse as buildings are renovated and storefronts replaced, so economically similar urban areas around the world might increasingly resemble each other and become interchangeable…

Yet the AirSpace aesthetic that Airbnb has contributed to, and the geography it creates, limits experiences of difference in the service of comforting a particular demographic (“the vanilla tourist”) falsely defined as the norm. It is a “hallucination of the normal,” as Koolhaas writes. This is the harmful illusion that so much technology, and technological culture, perpetuates: if you do not fit within its predefined structures as an effective user, you must be doing something wrong.

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Meet the Unlikely Airbnb Hosts of Japan

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Which brought us back to the challenge at hand. It was hard not to wonder how a company that’s disruptive at its core would be received ultimately in Japan, where harmonious unity — a concept known as wa — is something of a national virtue. How does a storm arrive in a place that’s phobic about storms?…

I asked if she thought Airbnb would eventually take off in Japan. Hayashi considered the question awhile, then gave a kind of yes-and-no answer. “Japanese people are very comfortable with the concept of sharing,” she said, citing the close quarters in which many families lived and the tradition of using sentou, communal bath houses. It’s just that they are less accustomed to sharing with outsiders.

… A number of the Tokyo hosts said they deliberately kept quiet about their involvement with Airbnb. “It’s kind of like talking about your investment portfolio,” one said. “You really only discuss it with the very closest of friends.” Japan has a national hotel law, which requires the licensing of any business that provides accommodation, though enforcement is spotty. But there’s also a tradition of individuals’ renting rooms to students or short-term visitors, called minpaku, which is considered legal. Airbnb, as it does in many countries, exists — nimbly, cannily — in a gray area. Mostly, people feared their neighbors, concerned that one poor interaction with a foreigner — one noisy night, one trampled flower bed, one failure to interpret the boundaries of what was acceptable — might lead to a police complaint or problems with a landlord.

…When new guests checked into a place he managed, he met them personally, showing them how to remove their shoes at the door and explaining that they needed to speak more quietly than maybe they did at home. Sometimes, though, the gulf between cultures felt unbridgeable, the boundaries impossible to translate. Machida described running afoul of a building co-op board, forced to close one of his listings after a visitor from Europe was spotted, to someone’s apparent horror, charging her cellphone in the building’s lobby.

 

 

One person’s electronics ban is that same person’s needed respite

Can't use laptop? Royal Jordanian suggests meditation, small talk

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Most airline passengers will be unaffected by the ban, because it covers a limited number of airlines out of a small number of countries. But even if you aren’t forced to stow away your laptop or tablet in your checked luggage, you may want to anyway.
A device-free hiatus is a gift.

But for others, it’s definitely NOT a gift:

For travelers who frequently cross through the Middle East and North Africa, the choices put them between a rock and a hard place: They can check their devices and lose a day or more of productive work, as well as run the risk of damage or theft, or trade a nonstop flight on a high-end Persian Gulf carrier for connecting flights on one of the major American or European airlines, where amenities and leg room are likely to be skimpier.

…“There are a lot of policies out there that basically say you can’t be separated from your laptop,” said Greeley Koch, executive director at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

Fast forward: the future of travel tech

The future of travel is increasingly lightweight and eco-friendly © ferrantraite / Getty

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…As wearable kit becomes more discreet, the possibilities for travellers are vast: especially when it comes to bridging language barriers.

‘In the next few years, it’s easy to imagine something like a pendant, watch or similar doing real-time two-way translation well enough to let people have a conversation without speaking the same language,’ says Dean. But he thinks more progress is needed before travellers can expect wearables to go mainstream.

…Debates have raged for a while about how travellers build and book trips, but changes are already being felt, according to some experts.

‘We’ve seen Facebook and Instagram both add live features recently, but I’m predicting it will all be about “live” peer-to-peer chat,’ says Brian Young of G Adventures. ‘Instead of researching a destination on the internet for hours, people will just be able to “ask a local” in the destination, or someone who has been to the destination, for their opinion.’

Instant local advice is an exciting prospect. It remains to be seen whether live recommendations will eventually fall foul of the same criticisms – like partiality and fakery – as review websites.

 

How Instagram is ruining travel

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At its best, travel is about curiosity, outwardness, a search for authentic encounters with the other. Photography was once a medium that enabled this: with its premium on stopping, framing, thinking, it encouraged seeing as opposed to merely looking. Lately, however, we seem to have stopped using photography like this. We’ve turned the camera around, focusing not out, but in. Photography no longer encourages seeing; it simply encourages projecting, turning the world’s great vistas into mere backdrops for the self.

I stand on the rock staring out. Around me everyone is posing, clicking, capturing, desperate that the moment be documented, made real by the standards of the day. Every image is an attempt to delay the inevitable, a desperate scream that says ‘look on my works, ye mighty and despair’. I look out at the land, boundless and bare, and know who’s winning the long game.

 

Turning Instagram Into a Radically Unfiltered Travel Guide

Photo illustration by Adam Ferriss

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When people talk about how the internet has changed the way we travel, they typically lament the way our compulsion to document removes us, somehow, from the actual experience…

But that same urge to share has created what is, for me, the best travel resource on the web: using location-based searches on social-media apps, especially Insta­gram, to drop in, like Dr. Beckett, to different destinations. Looking at the raw feed of geotagged posts offers a graphic map in real time, which you can comb through to make your own guidebook. I like to think of it as akin to a surf cam. But instead of tuning in to see if the waves are too mushy, feeds give a feel for a place that you can use to decide if a place feels fun and seems safe — whatever that means to you. And this has become my compass, my way of navigating the world. Rather than obsessing over travel sites or print guides or bothering friends for recommendations, I check a new city or town’s location tag right before I get there and see which recent posts are most popular. What I see there is wildly unfiltered, refracted through multiple perspectives — and much more revealing than any other guide.