At AS220: A virtual world tour

By PHILIP EIL  |  October 2, 2013

YOU’VE WRITTEN A FROMMER’S GUIDE TO DISNEY WORLD AND ORLANDO. I’M SLIGHTLY PROUD TO SAY I HAVEN’T BEEN TO EITHER.SHOULD I GO? Yes, you should go. Orlando, like Branson, has its devotees and they’ve unfortunately colored the whole place [and] its perception as a destination.

There is perhaps nowhere more authentically American than Orlando in that it is a largely constructed environment, it is highly commoditized. On its own terms, if you approach it as sort of a curiosity of our culture, it is unbelievably fascinating, much like Vegas is. It’s hard to believe it’s been happening behind your back all these years and you’ve never experienced it. All Americans who are interested in sociology or anthropology or even just the evolution of entertainment or crowd control or architecture or design — there are all of these incredible urban design issues that go into Orlando that are fascinating, even for people who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid or been lost the pixie dust.

HERE’S A BIG, PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION: WHAT IS THE POINT OF TRAVELING? It’s about becoming more than what you are. Even if you don’t become the other person when you travel to another person’s culture, you do realize other things are possible. And other things are as real as you. I think Jane Jacobs had a quote once . . . along the lines of, “Americans somehow feel that other cultures aren’t as real as their own.” And I think it’s important, especially for Americans, to expand themselves more than we actually are encouraged to as a consumer society.

It’s very well known how we don’t travel in the numbers that other nationalities travel, that fewer of us have passports, proportionally, than other countries. And I do think there is an emotional effect to that. It makes us more afraid of the “other.” Or it makes us invent an “other,” something to fear. And I think there’s a political effect to that, in that when your empathy for other cultures goes down because you haven’t had any contact with them, it does actually affect your foreign policies. It affects your consumer habits. It affects, basically what kind of citizen you are in your own country.

So I think the purpose of travel is to sort of unfold you, to open you up and make you realize that your reality is not the only reality. And I don’t know a single person who has truly traveled to place that’s not a resort or Disney World or something and come back a better person. Because you always come back more expanded and more sensitive and full of more empathy than you were when you left. On top of that you get really happy memories of the time when you lived beyond yourself. It reminds you that you’re capable of more than you thought you were.

The “Action Speaks!” “Paradise Found (And Lost?)” panel will take place at AS220 (115 Empire Street, Providence) on October 10 at 6 p.m. Go to for details.
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