“It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”
Never more has Einstein’s observation been more apparent than during that dinner in Navarre country.
There were about a dozen of us sitting around the dining table in a tiny hostel that was perched on the foot of the Pyrenees like an ugly plantar wart.
There was the macho-looking guy with a strange Canadian accent, a quirky guy from Scotland whom I was hoping would be the Billy Connelly alternative, two middle-aged French women, a family from somewhere in east-Asia who clearly didn’t want to be where they found themselves, and a quiet guy in black with longish dark hair who obviously bumped into Tolkien while he was profiling Strider. Any minute I was expecting him to tell me about my pending quest to Mordor.
Typically, the dinner table should have been stinking of exaggerated travel stories and tales of our background. Instead, silence hung in the air heavier than sopping jeans on a British clothesline in December. Everyone, but me, had their head buried in some form of gadget. If I hadn’t kicked mine off a Peniche bunk bed earlier on, I’d be an anti-social bastard as well. “Someone talk, someone talk, someone talk”, I tried to ESP everyone at the table. And suddenly, someone did.
“Can anyone tell me the Wifi password again?”
Whether you like it or not, the internet has now become a staple part of travel. It is the 21st century travellers’ map and compass, and it has certainly made my time on the road a hell of a lot easier. If you look at a backpackers’ search history, undoubtedly you’ll find the same practical sites hogging the Favourites spot where Craigslist would usually be.
Hostelworld. Lonely Planet. Westpac. Travelex. Exchange Rates. Google Maps. Ryanair. TGV timetables. And of course, FACEBOOK. These are just a few of the sites I have come to heavily rely upon whilst on the road. Technology has made my journey a lot easier and more spontaneous, but does it necessarily make it better?
It is a question that I am ironically faced with now. Wireless, movieless, unconnected, and unplugged for a week in a small Irish seaside town that is awakening from its winter slumber more stubbornly than my sister on a Monday morning. I only have my pen and paper to record my thoughts, and books and people to keep me from insanity.
I didn’t put myself in this position voluntarily, of course. There are too many Facebook photos of people’s dinner to’ Like’ to unplug for a week. It took a broken laptop, a wireless hostel, and a shoddy iPhone to find me here, and to give me the idea to try and live like a 90s backpacker. And so the challenge begins.
I never realised there is so much time in the day without the net. The hours I would spend trawling pure crap online and watching tv series are now filled with morning runs on the sea, mid-morning naps, talking to absolutely anyone in the hostel, lunchtime naps, catching up on reading, afternoon naps, playing pool with the lonely hostel owner to win my board, pre-dinner naps, pubs, and post-pub naps. The time spent playing pool with the creepy hostel owner instead of Liking your status resulted in him using his landline telemaphone to call the next county’s sister hostel and bully them into a price that would never be found on an internet screen. This challenge is paying off already.
Unplugging also reminds me that the fading art of old fashioned communication stands unrivalled. A conversation with someone can be more dramatic than an online movie, a text can not compare to receiving a post card, a phone call to tell your family where you are trumps a Facebook check-in, and absolutely no email can beat the simple yet fulfilling feeling of receiving a letter that someone has taken the time to pen, stamp and send on a journey to find you somewhere in the world.
I have only been unplugged for a few days, but already I feel refreshed from being technologically impaired. I have quickly lost the compulsive need to research everything, to check out who has been trying to get in touch, and to tell everyone what I have been doing rather than actually doing it. For these few days I have felt somewhat…free. It is the first time I felt like I was truly away and on an adventure, without the harness of my email and phone tying me to reality. And by God it feels good.
P.s. If you do go AWOL from the net, do remember to tell someone. A few more days unplugged and I would have found my face on a milk carton.