Beamed up and switched off
I heartily dislike this palaver known as in-flight connectivity, where you can log on to devices on planes and make calls, send texts and do all that social media carry-on.
I look around on both legs of a recent flight from London to Sydney via Singapore and my fellow passengers are all glued to their tiny screens, tip-tapping away or viewing clever streaming things. Surprisingly few are watching the airline’s myriad entertainment channels. Nobody seems to be looking at a book as no overhead reading lights are on. Perhaps old-fashioned lovers of print, now an at-risk species, are overly polite or just too embarrassed to illuminate their seat and others nearby.
The US government has banned laptops and larger devices on flights to and from some destinations, banishing them to the baggage hold, so it would be interesting to observe how technology-addicted passengers cope. For some it must feel like being separated from a close family member. How long before a parent actually dashes off a flight to retrieve their precious devices from the baggage carousel, leaving children to disembark and cope alone?
I have been delighted on various trips this year to be out of range, off air and on my own. Oh, the thrill of seeing those words No Signal on my phone or the connectivity bar barely visible. A recent month’s extended leave kept me away from computers for three-quarters of that time. When I finally logged back on to try and restore order to the inbox, hundreds of emailers had ignored my out-ofmessage, which clearly stated my return date. They had sent follow-up messages alerting me to previous emails requiring urgent replies. Sound familiar?
It’s all part of the accountability of modern life, the ding and buzz of our days, the expectation that we are plugged in 24/7, itself a form of shorthand that implies sleep is only for the lazy and the permanently departed.
Because I have survived a month of (almost) digital detox and seem none the worse for wear, I am now actively seeking holiday places where telecommunications are difficult or expensive, or both. Last year, I had imagined a tent in Botswana’s Okavango Delta would be off the map but it was not. Instagram pictures took an age to load there but the world did not fall off its axis just because my rhino shots were “latergrams”. Early June and I saw the sun rise over Uluru, but all contemplation and wonderment was soon interrupted by several tourists shouting into their phones. Oh, just shut up.
More than a decade ago the marvellously grumpy Paul Theroux suggested that the way things were looking we would all be seeking “disappearance tourism” in due course. We would be clinging to the edge of inhospitable terrain, battling the elements and enduring hardship just to be alone and uninterrupted. It’s hardly appealing but I get where he’s coming from.
Meantime, I’ll be the one on the plane reading a novel about a mythical and disconnected place such as Jan Morris’s Hav or Michael Frayn’s Skios or Howard Jacobson’s Urbs Ludus, an imaginary realm inspired by Donald Trump so, regrettably, there is tweeting involved.
But to make my flights of fancy to these destinations and be a good aeroplane citizen, I will need my iPhone app to read the pages. Beam me up, please.