COUNTING THE COST OF SKYHIGH WI-FI.

GQ (Australia) - - THE COLUMNIST -

Ifly long haul at least once a month. I don’t en­joy sit­ting in a cramped seat, fret­ting about deep vein throm­bo­sis. Nor am I a fan of breath­ing re­cy­cled air that an­ni­hi­lates my im­mune sys­tem. But I do love sev­eral hours of moreor-less un­in­ter­rupted me time. Time to sleep, time to watch movies, time to think, time to write. Without the con­stant dis­trac­tion of the in­ter­net, I find a lit­tle win­dow seat to be an ex­tremely pro­duc­tive hot desk. And though long flights are phys­i­cally drain­ing, the headspace is men­tally restora­tive. But that is all chang­ing thanks to the in­sid­i­ous creep of in-flight wi-fi. It started off as a nov­elty. “Oh wow, I can re­ceive emails at 30,000 feet!” Only a few planes had it, and only on a few routes. But now they’ve gone and rolled it out glob­ally and you can’t es­cape it. The last re­main­ing en­forced refuge from the in­ces­sant dig­i­tal bom­bard­ment has gone. There is no go­ing back. You might be on a red-eye, wedged up into the armpit of a warthog, but that’s no ex­cuse not to re­ply to your boss’s emails or to check in on Face­book. The down­side of never hav­ing to switch off your phone is that you’re never able to switch off your phone. We are the first gen­er­a­tion to be­come ad­dicted to these de­vices so the long-term ef­fects are un­known. But in 30 years’ time I believe there’ll be a pub­lic health out­cry, sim­i­lar to the one about cig­a­rettes, due to their ru­inous psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pacts. I used to have a con­cen­tra­tion span greater than 10 min­utes, now I feel like I have ADD. I love and hate my smart­phone, the lit­tle wanker. “If you don’t stop stroking it, you’ll go blind.” I hate that I can’t put it down, that I feel anx­ious if it is out of arm’s reach or if the bat­tery sud­denly plum­mets to sub-10 per cent. My up­per right thigh is so used to the buzz of an in­com­ing alert in my pocket I get those phan­tom vi­bra­tions all the time. Re­mem­ber that oft-quoted statis­tic that men think about sex every seven sec­onds? That was be­fore the iphone when men used to stare into mid­dle dis­tance/at a cleav­age and day­dream. Now the av­er­age per­son ap­par­ently checks their phone every six and a half min­utes. Ac­cord­ing to a study con­ducted by Nokia (ah bless, re­mem­ber them?), in the 16 hours most peo­ple are awake per day, they check their phones 150 times. I’d say that was a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate. These days, if I do man­age not to touch mine for more than a few min­utes, the damn at­ten­tion-seeker will trill or buzz with a pas­sive-ag­gres­sive push no­ti­fi­ca­tion alert­ing me to Trump’s lat­est dick move, a celebrity’s Tweet I “may have missed” or a special of­fer from di­a­pers.com. It used to be that planes were one of the few places where no one could reach you, all elec­tronic de­vices were shut down or switched to flight mode, giv­ing trav­ellers a few hours’ respite. But now they’ve in­tro­duced fly-fi. And the main prob­lem is, com­pared to the high-speed 4G we’re used to on terra firma, up in the air it’s a bit shit – about as se­cure as a job in the White House. This, de­spite the fact that, de­pend­ing what air­line you’re fly­ing with, you may have been charged an Uber-style surge price dur­ing times of peak de­mand. Stand-up co­me­dian Louis CK used to do an amus­ing bit on in-flight wi-fi called ‘Ev­ery­thing’s Amaz­ing and No­body’s Happy’, about how we live in age of mind­blow­ing tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment, yet all we do is moan about it. But he first per­formed that in 2008. Nine years on, I’m still wait­ing for Youtube to load. The speed of tech­nol­ogy can never keep pace with hu­man im­pa­tience. First-world prob­lems, you say? I could just not turn it on and en­joy a few hours of dig­i­tal detox as be­fore. But that’s like putting a box of dough­nuts in front of Homer Simp­son and say­ing he doesn’t have to try one. If it’s on of­fer, I want it. I am a hard user. There is an ex­pec­ta­tion to be avail­able at all times. I feel ob­li­gated to re­ply to every mes­sage. And six hours without val­i­da­tion from strangers on In­sta­gram? Are you ac­tu­ally kid­ding me? So for those of us who are ad­dicted, some in­ter­net is still just about bet­ter than no in­ter­net. Which means de­spite the ser­vice or lack thereof, we end up fork­ing out for sky-high wi-fi that just makes us swear and tut: the equiv­a­lent of suck­ing at a tiny kinked straw for hours when we are used to gorg­ing on broad­band. And we can’t com­plain to the provider be­cause the con­nec­tion just dropped out again.

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