COUNTING THE COST OF SKYHIGH WI-FI.
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.