Left to our own devices
I have just upgraded to an iPhone 6 from a much earlier (and thus critically endangered) model. Yes, I do know this makes me one of those much-derided “late adopters”, but I like to cling to what I know, and feel little need to rush headlong towards all that is new and shiny. This phone, with all the latest apps and maps that appear in the blink of an eye and amusing emoji icons, seems to contain the secrets of a smiley-faced universe. It is destined to become an indispensable travelling companion, in the style of my favourite guidebooks years ago.
Way back, if luggage limits were an issue, I would sometimes photocopy the pages I needed (or, horrors, rip free whole chapters, leaving books limp and defeated) and set forth. Or often I would just go commando-style, relying on common sense and, perhaps, a friend’s recommendation or two. Those were the days of real discoveries, feeling as close as one could reasonably imagine to being an explorer or expeditioner.
Few frontiers remain untrammelled; almost everywhere is documented, photographed, Instagrammed and Facebooked. Those of us who want to fall off the map should consider not carrying a map or a device. Digital detox tourism is a growing trend and some lodges and camps in far-flung reaches, such as Africa and South and Central America, are proudly (and bravely) advertising their lack of connectivity; these are places for those who want to feel completely unreachable, if only for a day or two. It’s the contemporary equivalent of that Gone Fish- in’ sign on the office door that used to be considered a fair thing, a good lark. Now of course there would be a mobile phone number scrawled beneath because it is deemed completely unacceptable to be out of range.
I stayed at a safari camp a year or so ago in southern Africa where the signal was so patchy that devices rarely worked and because management couldn’t convince some guests of this, it was easier for staff to confiscate iPhones and iPads at check-in and to point out that if a real emergency arose, there was a satellite phone that could be used to call the “outside world”. They made it sound as if such calls would cost a royal ransom. Devices were popped into a safe and stayed there, unloved if not entirely forgotten. Before this tactic was decided upon, the manager told me, some guests would wander off and climb trees in search of signals, which was foolhardy indeed. A lion on the line, perchance?
Aircraft and cruise ships were once places you could be sure of being uncontactable. But now you can make calls and send messages from on high and cruise lines offer affordable (or occasionally free) Wi-Fi. Once you had to make ship-to-shore calls and sometimes this meant going up to the bridge and meeting the handsomely attired radio officer and pleading your emergency. Now it’s just me and my iPhone 6 at sea, I fear, as aside from its potential to bake scones and teach me conversational Urdu, I am sure it can tap out a Morse Code signal at a second’s notice.