Sociologist Explores Evolution of Travel, From Backpacking to ‘Flashpacking’

Prof. Jennie Germann Molz receives international award for research into convergence of tourism and technology

March 3rd, 2014 by 

Image by John Buckingham

Unlike the backpacking college student of yesterday, where phone calls back home were rare to nonexistent, today young travelers can feel like they are in multiple locations at once with the presence of Facebook and Twitter.

And that fascinates Jennie Germann Molz, associate professor of sociology at the College of the Holy Cross. Molz says that digital devices and social media have not only transformed the tourism industry, they have transformed the way travelers experience travel.

Her most recent work in this area was awarded the Journal Paper of the Year Award by the International Federation for Information Technologies in Travel and Tourism at its ENTER 2014 Conference in Dublin. The award is given to “the most innovative and scientifically rigorous IT & tourism-related paper published in an academic journal in 2013,” according to IFITT. The paper was co-written by Cody M. Paris, senior lecturer and program coordinator of social science at Middlesex University Dubai.

Their paper, titled “The Social Affordances of Flashpacking: Exploring the Mobility Nexus of Travel and Communication” traces the transition from backpacking to “flashpacking,” which means that travelers with laptops and smartphones are able to stay in continuous touch with friends, family and other travelers while on the move.

“We were wondering how the increasing pervasiveness of social networking and mobile technologies in the realm of travel and tourism was shaping and reshaping the way travelers and tourists do ‘togetherness,’ how they’re social with each other, with local people and with people at a distance, like their family and friends back home,” said Molz.

Furthermore, technologies like Twitter and Facebook have introduced a mechanism for “following someone” as “a way of being a friend.” These applications provide the flashpacker with a “virtual mooring”, which gives people far away the ability to access the traveler and experience another place, said Molz.

“No matter how long a tourist or backpacker is traveling they can have this constant presence online where people can find them wherever they are,” she said.

Molz has taught numerous sociology courses at Holy Cross related to the study of tourism, culture and technology’s effects on human interaction. They include Sociology of Travel & Tourism; Global Culture & Society; and Technology, Mobility & Social Life. In 2012, she received a Fulbright grant to explore the couch surfing trend. Looking ahead, Molz plans to focus her research on road schooling and studying the travel experiences of families who take their children out of school to travel for a year.

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