We just got back from a family vacation, where my ability to “stay connected” to the online world was limited.  I felt the pull to check email twice a day, and did take a couple of business related calls, but for the most part, I was basically disconnected from the online world.

This let me change my focus from myself and the New Media world to that of the Real World.  And guess what?  There’s lots of off-line stuff that does just fine without an online presence.  It’s also hard to make a compelling argument that online would help their businesses enough to make it worth their while.

For example, while I booked our whale watching tickets online, it was just as easy to book a second trip in person at the booth on the wharf.  I don’t even think the fishing boat we went on had an online presence.  The little fudge shops probably could send some product out in the mail, but it’s smelling it being made that makes the difference.  The t-shirt shops, the small unique gift stores- all of these places succeed not only by the foot traffic in their summer communities, but by the concept of Souvenirs.

Souvenir comes from the french word that means “to remember”.   I found that many of the things I bought while on vacation fell into this category.  Whether it was local specialties I can’t get at home, unique items I liked and have a use for (like the Butter Boy butter holder for corn on the cob), art, or things that just caught my eye, all will remind me of this trip when I see them.  They become souvenirs by where they were acquired, not just by whether they have the place of origin emblazoned on them or not.

The specialness comes from being at the source- at the location.  It comes from eating Portuguese Kale Soup, the same or even better that I remember eating as a kid.  It’s eating fresh fish and seafood, or grabbing a great ice cream from a small shop that churns its own.

As an adult, I like the challenge of hunting hunt down the “right” recipe for a local specialty, and then trying to find a decent source for linguica or chorico near home. (It turns out the best places that make it are all near New Bedford, MA- mail order and internet will help me here.)  And then whether it will taste the same, without the sounds and smells of the Lobster Pot in the background.

It’s the specialness and unique nature of Cape Cod that keeps us coming back time and again.  Things change, but they remain enough the same to charm us all over again, as we discover the new while traveling down those old nostalgic memory lanes.

This experience has me thinking more about what we create in the online world.  How do we create something that will keep people coming back, time and again?  How do we create an impression, a memory, and experience, that will make an impact and make us memorable and remarkable, as Seth Godin often puts it?  Can we create souvenirs that people want to take and keep with them, as memories to cherish?  Can we create media that people will want to consume themselves more than once?  How do we make something worthy of remembering?

New Media events like PodCamp create this same sort of special experience like vacation spots- this sense of time and place that cut a deep groove in our memories.  We get excited about meeting our colleagues in person,  and this becomes coupled with the mementos- t-shirts, ideas, and other physical things that remind us of our experience and make it live again.

Each new PodCamp or New Media playdate is  unique.  It’s not like renting the same house year after year at a favorite vacation spot.  Yet as time passes, I think it will become more like an annual convention, where we will all meet, swap stories, and make plans for the next event, when we can again meet and bond.

Why is this So Important?

Because it is the real world experience.  PodCamp and other New Media conferences bring the virtual alive and that’s what matters.  The ability to meet someone, size them up, and make actual contact is what creates the long term impact and the excitement. This is why going to PodCamp is important, whether you think you are going to learn something or not.  If you don’t go, you don’t know what you’ll miss.  And what you’ll miss most is the experience and “souvenirs” of all sorts that you’ll collect while you’re there.

And let’s face it- I’d much rather my children had memories of the fun times together, than not, even if they are associated with a silly snowglobe or t-shirt.   These are the things that will make the memories real again.