A week in the dark ages

I have just spent an entire week on holiday without access to the internet, TV or even newspapers. No Facebook, Twitter or email. No RSS news feeds direct to my iPhone (which was drowned, presumed dead in an incident involving a flooded ditch nearly three weeks ago). No means of navigating around Tuscany other than a paper map and our own wits – no sat-nav, no GPS, no Google Maps. No up-to-the-minute alerts on the latest attention-grabbing stunts by Jedward in the Celebrity Big Brother house. (So it wasn’t all bad.) It has been like taking a step back into the dark ages which, for a tech geek/information junkie like myself, has been something of an ordeal.

Or so one might think. The thing is it actually wasn’t that bad.

That may come as a surprise to those readers who know me well. I rarely go for any length of time without flicking a finger across my phone to check for my latest messages/updates. I hate not knowing in real-time the outcome of an event I am interested in. Technology is very much my friend, not my foe.

Even so, I was not remotely concerned about staying connected to the outside world all week, with one major exception which I will come to later.

The thing is, I’m not actually addicted to the technology itself, more that I find the benefits it confers to be an important part of my day-to-day life. Take me out of that routine – a week’s holiday, say – and those benefits take on a much lesser importance. Therefore the need to have access to the relevant 21st century technology becomes an unnecessary one for the duration.

Now, of course, I am back in the ‘real’ world. I could write something deep and meaningful about getting back to the core of what it means to be human, or how it has enlightened me to the way technology has discouraged us from enjoying the simple pleasures in life, or how it has eroded our basic communication skills.

I could say any or all of the above. But the fact is it would be a lie – or at the very least a distortion of the truth. The fact is that I didn’t need a week away from technology to tell me a load of stuff which I already knew to be true. The fact also is that my behaviours will not change as a result of seven days of technological abstinence. Just because I did things differently (or not at all) for a week does not mean I will change my routines as a result. Nor would I want to.

So, what are my conclusions after my week away from contemporary information and communications technology? Two things. Firstly, that it is surprisingly easy to survive without the various technological accoutrements that I have surrounded myself with over the years. And secondly, now that I am back in the reassuring cocoon of my 24/7 connected world, despite having enjoyed the separation from all the white noise that is part and parcel of modern life there is a palpable sense of relief to be plugged back in again.

It has been lovely to have taken a break. But it’s great to be back too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have 419 emails, 3,658 unread items in Google Reader, a week’s worth of Facebook updates and tweets to read, and a full Sky+ box of recorded TV programmes to wade my way through. Stepping out of the stream for a week has been great, but that doesn’t stop the bath from filling up. The batteries are fully recharged – it’s time to get back on the (technological) horse at a full gallop.

There’s just one final thing …

A sting in the tail

I mentioned earlier that there was one major exception to my technology-free week, when we would have been truly scuppered without access to the internet and mobile phones. That occurred when British Airways were forced to cancel our flight home on Tuesday because of an Italian strike. We were notified by text message, and a quick series of phone calls allowed us to book ourselves on to a flight the following day, change our car rental arrangements and extend our car parking at Gatwick.

And thanks to the wonders of the internet, within 20 minutes later that evening I was able to find a hotel with available rooms in Pisa 100km away, scan reviews to assure myself it wasn’t the equivalent of the Bates Motel, get directions, book a family room and request a cot for Toby – all while sipping a cold beer at our site’s internet cafe.

Without technology, we might not have found out about the strike until arriving at the airport, necessitating a mad scramble for an alternative flight, a manual re-booking of our hire car and then relying on a tourist office to find us a hotel, with two tired, confused and probably screaming kids in tow. At the very least we would have racked up several fraught hours with a telephone directory feeding coins into a pay-phone.

A week in the dark ages was fine. But having the safety net of being able to step back into the light of the 21st century was better. For all the negatives that can be associated with technology – and I recognise it is all too easy to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by it – this was one occasion when it made our lives so much easier. That’s why we call them the ‘dark ages’.