Beamed up and switched off

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

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.

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