Somewhat surprisingly, tech-lover and all-round gadget guru Olly Mann is seeking disconnection. But can he do it?
Roaming charges across the EU have been scrapped. So whether you intend to spend your summer sailing round the Cote d’Azur, or bar-crawling in Benidorm, you won’t be charged extra for boastfully texting your colleagues the video evidence.
On one level, this is wonderful news. It was patently absurd that previously, if you simply forgot to swipe off your roaming settings on the outbound flight, you could plausibly return from your package holiday with not only that souvenir paella fridge magnet and presentation pack of flavoured mustard, but also a £100-plus bill from your phone network, just because you tried (and probably failed) to download a Star Wars movie while enduring a hotel covers band.
But I can’t help feeling a little sad about it. Yet another previously unconnected place—my summer holiday—is joining the London Underground, the BBC’s basement canteen and my grandma’s maisonette in the list of locales where I never expected to be able to check my Facebook, and am now a little disorientated that I can.
Planes will probably be the next frontier but, as most of the airlines I fly seem to charge passengers at least seven quid for a Coke and a bag of pretzels, it seems unlikely they’re going to make wi-fi affordable any time soon. Good. At least at 35,000 feet there will remain some respite.
You may be surprised—considering I’m the technology columnist for this very publication—that I have such Luddite tendencies. But, look: my desire to be occasionally disconnected from the constantly updating, hyper-coloured, dizzyingly infinite world wide web isn’t the same as disliking the devices that deliver the drug.
I cherish the curved contours of every gadget that graces my inside pocket. I envy the screens and the sounds and the digits and the dongles. But sometimes, I just want a break from all that content. I just want to read a book. Or talk. Or look at stuff in front of me.
"You may be surprised—considering I’m the technology columnist for this very publication—that I have such Luddite tendencies"
No doubt I’ll discover many mouth-watering opportunities to make use of my discounted data as I bounce around Barcelona this summer—from seeking out the top nearby restaurants on TripAdvisor, to summoning up an Uber to take me to my hotel.
But there will now also be, ever-present in my pocket, the ping-pingping of the social media timeline, the relentless barrage of promotional emails and attentiongrabbing headlines from the 24-hour news cycle. That won’t feel much like a holiday, will it?
I’m aware that, just for the duration of my fortnight in the sun, I could choose to silence my notifications, avoid certain braindraining apps and only use the functions on my phone that I really require.
But the apps I’m addicted to, I’m addicted to for a reason: they’re fun. And if they’re available, right in my pocket all the time, I’ll want to look at them. And share photos with them. And buy stuff with them. Even as I comprehend that while I’m doing that, I may not exactly be relaxing and benefiting from the true mental rest that a vacation can provide, it will prove hard to resist.
This is why I don’t own a smartwatch, even though, judging by my usual enthusiasm for new technology, I should be on my fourth or fifth one by now. I’ve reviewed a few samples for this magazine, and can certainly see the appeal of connected wristwear for certain lifestyles—a friend of mine who cycles everywhere, for instance, says his Apple Watch is a godsend while out on the roads.
But, personally, I just don’t want another way of being wrapped up in the virtual world: I already have my desktop, my laptop, my smartphone and my tablet for that.
"I’m already one of those unfortunates who feels compelled to use my every moment of downtime to check in online"
I’m already one of those unfortunates who feels compelled to use my every moment of downtime to check in online—consulting my Twitter feed while queueing for a coffee, for instance. I really feel repelled by the concept of actually appending the internet to my body as well. (Instead, I wear my dad’s trusty leather-and-silver Swiss timepiece. Literally the watch he died in. It makes me feel grown-up and manly and reminds me of him. It also tells me the time. Magnificently.)
The nuclear option, I guess, is to leave my phone at home. This is simply not going to happen. It’s not just my phone and web portal, after all: these days, it’s also my camera, my camcorder, my map, my diary, alarm clock and my in-flight entertainment system.
Read more: It's a Mann's World: The worldwide Olly Mann
So, I only have two hopes for true escape. One, that in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations we Brits lose the right to free data, and start paying over-the-odds for our phone use once again—like the proud, upright global citizens that we are.
Or two, which is perhaps more generous to my fellow UK travellers: I always travel long-haul in the future. In the US, for instance, data can still cost up to £190 per day. What a deterrent! Absolute heaven.
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