Well, I am back, and I had a terrific time. I also learned quite a bit about the ecological and economic diversity of Arizona.
Congratulations Arizonans, you have a beautiful and wonderful state. The ride from Flagstaff to Sedona alone included as much natural beauty as I could imagine. It is almost unfair that you also have the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and the Red Rocks. Thanks for sharing.
I promised to keep a log of my data center-related exploits just to see what affect technology had on the visitor experience to these distant spaces. I'll start by saying that the National Parks and Forests I visited have done a terrific job keeping the beautiful landscapes unsullied by kiosks, touch screens, and other computers. Tourists, like my family and me, brought our own technology to the parks and used and misused them, just like at home.
Digital cameras were everywhere. Telephones, too. Of course, smart phones take pictures and video. One phone enabled the following phone call: "OMG, you'll never guess where I am right now...At the top of the Grand Canyon...It's like beautiful." So these carry-on devices were a mixed blessing.
Still, the farther down the canyon we hiked the fewer signs of civilization. We passed a pack of the famous mules (well, they passed me), and this group appeared to be doing very well without technology. Perhaps RFID to identify the animals, but this was invisible to our group.
Our cabins lacked Internet (very happy wife), but the main lodge offered free wireless (a fair balance, I think, right boss?), which was important as I don't have a 3G card. The wireless connection and laptop enabled my wife and me to stay on top of work and important issues at home, and for the kids to get on Facebook.
It's hard to call Facebook a mission critical application, but that and texting their friends really excited the three teenagers on the trip. And, to be fair, it was important that my wife and I deal with the real world while we were away.
We took a number of side trips from the Canyon, and we found that phone service was available nearly everywhere, even where there were few other people.
We also spent a few days in Sedona and drove on Route 66 through Winslow, where they parked a flatbed Ford just for tourists. I think they also have a girl in the flatbed Ford on weekends.
Many of the businesses we visited had computerized point-of-sale terminals, but a few still had old-fashioned cash registers. These changes did not affect our stay at all.
Our lodging at Sedona did have wireless, which made it more convenient for me to stay in touch. In truth, though, our days were packed with activities, so I only checked email early in the morning and just before dinner. I could have Tweeted more because cell phone service was so reliable, but I found myself too much in the moment to do so. Ironically, we really only lost phone service twice when it mattered, for a total of about 5 minutes during a webinar rehearsal while on a lengthy car ride on US 17 to the Phoenix airport.
One night I realized what I learned about the effect of mission critical technologies on the modern world. We were stargazing outside Sedona, waiting for Jupiter to come out from behind a cloud, when the local astronomer pointed at a star that was millions of light-years away. He said the Greeks, the Romans, the Vikings, and many others all knew this star and how to navigate by it, whereas we know exactly how far it is and can compare its physical characteristics, including its age, in many ways that they couldn't. We have GPS to navigate, and no longer need the stars to know where we are going.
The stars haven't changed; we have. We use computers to understand them better. Similarly, the Grand Canyon and the other natural wonders also change only very slowly, but we can know so much more about them than ever before and enjoy them and capture and share their beauty so much more easily. I know that I probably missed a host of computer-based technologies that enabled my whole trip, bit I am glad to have taken time to look at the stars.