Left to our own de­vices

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

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.

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