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Life Offline

October 2010

I’m just completing two weeks of late summer holiday with family and friends in electronically remote and isolated circumstances.  The cottage we are renting has no telephone, and hence no internet by that method; mobile phones of all brands and networks work very poorly, if at all, which make going online that way an impossibly slow and intermittent experience that is not worth the effort.

Our digital radio works in a very hit and miss way, making listening impossible, and whilst there is an elderly analogue television, reception is dreadful and in any event I’ve turned its face to the wall (there are jigsaws to be done and worlds to be put to rights over dinner, and we don’t need the nonsense that passes as TV entertainment to spoil that).

The only reliable electronic contact we have with the rest of the world is the little radio we have in the bathroom, which just about picks up Long Wave, and so I can listen to the news while I shave, but not much more.   

All this means that I have no easy way of checking email, either for home or work; we have left no forwarding address for letters and whilst people can leave messages on my mobile voicemail, I am seldom able to receive them.  We are, in terms of modern communications, on a desert island; cut off, abandoned and bereft of the electronic umbilical cords that bind us so firmly the rest of the time.

Perhaps you think we are somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, or half way up a Grampian hill, but actually we are on a patch of the English coast that is an easy drive from London and very far from inaccessible.  The restaurants are numerous, public transport is excellent and there is even a decent hat shop.  Hardly out of the way.  So how are we coping with this dreadful electronic deprivation?

On the whole, very happily.  What has been particularly interesting is that reaction has been stratified by age groups, and not the way you might expect.

Our gathering is a pretty wide statistical sample; 20 or so people, five families, ages from 13 to 90, English and American, boys and girls.  Rather to my surprise, it has been the under 25’s who have been most relaxed.  Faced with a lack of screen based entertainment they have got on with boats, swimming,  running around, playing with yo-yo’s, chatting, going to the pub and reading.

No, it has turned out to be their parents who have been walking up and down looking for a phone signal, taking photos to put on Facebook and hunting for a public wifi connection so that their laptops and Ipads will link up to what they see as the real world.  At times when this has become impossible, their withdrawal symptoms have been tension and concern.

Oldie readers will not be surprised to learn that the oldest members of the party have been as relaxed as the youngest, taking things pretty much as they come.

This experience tells me two things.  First, don’t believe a word of it when the mobile phone companies claim that some very high proportion of the country can get a good signal – it just isn’t true.  Actually, they are pretty clever, and they normally claim that it is a percentage of the “population” that can get the good stuff, not the geographic areas.

Secondly, it does us good to be cut off from this sort of outside contact, at least for a while.  I am a strong supporter of the virtual world, I like the idea of transacting business through the cloud, I am keen on the benefits and opportunities the internet provides.  I even think that mobile phone networks have a useful role to play.

But this fortnight has reminded me that that life without all that babble is more relaxed, less pressured and rather fulfilling.  Mind you, all the lovely weather we had helped a lot.

In the spirit of the holiday, therefore, here are a splendid site that gently highlights the time you can waste surfing the web.  If you go to do not expect much – just the word “YES” if your computer is, indeed, on.  Of course, if it is off, don’t expect to see a “NO”....