My Tibetan digital detox lasted one morning, how about yours?

It can be cold and lonely at the tip

Marconi and transmission equipment

Something for the Weekend, Sir? My nuts are freezing. So are my toes and fingertips. It's chilly here on my remote Tibetan mountaintop.

Being removed from the hurly burly of everyday modern existence gives me a chance to contemplate the truly important things in life. I exercise mindfulness as my exhalations produce swirling clouds before me. I consider the vista of humanity through applied meditation. I apply zen focus to my shrivelling nuts.

Would you like a cup of tea?

Go on. Bugger this for a lark anyway. It's only mid-afternoon but let's put the heating on early and see if there's an episode of Columbo on telly.

OK, so I'm not in Tibet but I did spend the last 30 minutes in the next best thing: my spare room at home where it can get a bit chilly and the Wi-Fi struggles to connect.

It had been my plan to cut myself off from the world for a short while to see what it's like. No superfluous smartphone, no unnecessary net, no bourgeois warmth applied to my dangly bits, just my mind and the real world. Me, I disconnect from you.

Psychologists are warning of the damaging over-reliance on screens that millions are addicted to, according to a study by a smartypants at the University College London, and I don't want to be damaged. This study reckons a quarter of the population spends upwards of 10 hours a day with their faces just a few inches from a screen, living most their waking day in the digital world rather than through live experiences "such as music concerts and theatre".

Hang on a sec, a concert or a play aren't exactly real life either, pal. You're just substituting digital interactivity with real-time passivity. Who commissioned this stupid survey, anyway?

Oh, it's Encore Tickets. I should have known. Columbo's on at 3.30pm. Get the kettle on. Where's my phone?

Now hunched by a radiator, cuddling a bright red mug of Earl Grey in my hands, a hot-water bottle between my legs and munching on the last of the hot-pentangle-buns left over from Ēostre, I find myself committing the worst crime of domestic information technology known to human society. I am dividing my concentration between chuckling at Jack Cassidy's bug-eyed double-takes and catching up with not-so-instant messages that have been accumulating since I switched it off earlier this morning.

Dabbsy's Reg mug

My bright red mug. Tea comes extra.

Mme D rises above behaviour like this or perhaps she's just used to it, but the plebeian hordes don't like me doing this while in her presence in public, I've noticed. For example, we'll be on a weekend visit to some obscure village, on the hunt for Saxon churches and esoteric gift shops that sell New Age tarot decks adorned with pictures of nude ladies, only stop by a café for sustenance and immediately provoke quiet harrumphing from around the other tables.

We do this by following a very particular routine. I order the coffee while she claims a table and two chairs in the name of the Entente Cordiale, accompanied by the hoisting of flags, the playing of national anthems and the delivery of a few speeches. As soon as I bring the drinks over, Mme D opens a novel on her lap and I illuminate my smartphone to check Google Maps for the nearest surviving pile of stones with potential Scandinavian characteristics.

Haaaa-rumph, look at him, he's more interested in his phone than his totty, what a fool.

Well, look. If I pulled a heap of tourist brochures and an Ordnance Survey map from my backpack, no one would bat an eyelid. But for some reason, doing exactly this using my smartphone is a Bad Thing To Be Discouraged. Looking up Google Maps while sitting opposite my wife is an act that destroys civilisation as surely as if I was blowing up a 1st century Afghan buddha with dynamite.

Attitudes such as this explain the growing popularity of "digital detox" holidays such as those offered by Off The Grid. These holidays involve visiting lovely international destinations and not ruining them for yourself and everybody else around you by Instagramming your fucking pizzas.

Instead, according to Off The Grid's brochure (ironically only available online, as is its booking system), "you show up, trade your smartphone for a dumbphone, and spend a full week disconnected from the internet." Apparently, this will "allow you to be fully present" and "connect you with inspiring people who share a passion for self-improvement and digital mindfulness."

Certainly, it sounds like a great way to come back from holiday without a single photo of where you went, but I suppose if it means the rest of us having to fight through a smaller crowd of duck-pouting selfie-sods obscuring your view at every landmark, it has to be worthwhile.

On the other hand, I despair at the return to "dumbphones". This is not a good thing, believe me.

I just about remember the days when you would cram onto public transport during rush hour in the calm knowledge that you could spend your journey in relative calm because everyone else was reading a newspaper. But when mobile phones went mainstream in the 1990s, buses and trains were quickly transformed into chambers of cacophony due to the incessant yelling into handsets.

It was only when people started buying smartphones that peace was restored. All that noisy blah could at last be committed to quiet texting and imaging, or silent contemplation of world events as reported in the news media.

But now we're supposed to want a return to having someone shouting two inches from your ear about their shareholdings, car repairs and that new bloke at work with the funny accent. And instead of harrumphing at someone at a nearby table in your favourite restaurant when he checks his smartphone mid-meal for a message from the GP, your ears will be treated to a window-rattling verbal description of his chronic anal discharge as you tuck into your tikka and dahl.

As for the effects on my health of being constantly connected as I go about my daily domestic existence, there's little risk of that where I live. I'm with O2 and the signal is shite.

On the other hand, someone's just messaged to remind me I'm late for another deadline. I think I feel another trip to Tibet coming on. ®

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs
Alistair 'Norgay' Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He is reminded of the great Douglas Adams quote: "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." Unfortunately, his own experience is that the noise they make is more akin to wailing and the gnashing of teeth.



Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018