Sunday 20 October 2019

A week without Wi-Fi? It's not as easy as it sounds

Carol Hunt finds that logging off from the virtual world is a much more difficult task than it might at first appear

RUGGED ISLAND: A few days ‘unplugged’ on the beautiful west coast island of Achill can work its magic
RUGGED ISLAND: A few days ‘unplugged’ on the beautiful west coast island of Achill can work its magic
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

Remember Father Kevin, the depressed priest from Father Ted, played by Tommy Tiernan? On a visit to Craggy Island, Ted manages to talk him down from a building and cure him with the theme tune from Shaft, only for Kevin's depression to return when the bus-driver on the way home plays Radiohead.

Last week, I realised just how he felt. It wasn't the dismal voice of Thom Yorke that sent me reaching for the Prozac however, but the dulcet tones of Deputy Mick Wallace (no offence, Mick). Sitting on my own at the back of a (near) empty bus on the rainswept Island of Achill, the busman turned the radio dial to Morning Ireland, and suddenly I was assaulted by depressing talk of Nama, the Banking Inquiry, that never-ending Greek tragedy and, dear God, Bertie Ahern and the way he would mangle words at you.

For five days I had been "current affairs" free. For me, as a freelance opinion journalist, this is equivalent to going cold turkey off caffeine - bound to end in tears or/and existential angst. It wasn't a choice I made of my own volition - does anyone? But when a friend suggested taking all the local kids to her holiday home in Achill, I thought I'd better avail of the offer.

It wasn't like they were getting any other holiday this year (see freelance journalist etc, above), and if I didn't get them away from the city it would be "all my fault" (see last week's opinion piece) if they turned to a life of crime from sheer boredom.

And so we set off. Six adults. Nine children. Five dogs. No Wi-Fi. No TV. And no radio either. No problem, eh? Sure, don't we all have smartphones with 4G to download information from the interweb and ways to "tether" iphones to iMacs and all that sort of clever stuff? For some unfathomable reason, my network decided to down tools and take a holiday at exactly the same time that I did); it was a potential disaster. Could I get any work done? Would I be left a quivering, incoherent wreck, begging strangers on the beach for "a go" of their iPhones?

In a world saturated with images - and accompanying smart text - would the fact that I couldn't pic 'n' post my holiday experiences on to Twitter or Facebook mean that they didn't actually occur? And what was the point of being on probably the most beautiful beach in the country if I couldn't Instagram a picture and make everyone at home jealous? Despite my advanced years - and to the perpetual embarrassment of my children, who think that at my age I should stick to a dial phone for my communications - I like using social media. My own little corner of Twitter is populated, not by ogres or trolls, but by a lot of ordinary, decent people who like a good conversation and a bit of an argument. The odd moron who pops up to vent their bile at me I quickly block. It works.

I am one of the many Irish adults who go online to chat while watching prime-time TV. How would I survive no telly and no Twitter? I was getting palpitations just thinking about it. Mercifully, within a half hour walk there was a restaurant - appropriately called Pure Magic - which had free Wi-Fi. It was slow - I couldn't bring the dog or the child and had to remember to close the gate every time I went into it for fear the sheep would follow me - but it worked. And after doing the absolute minimum amount of on-line activity I could get away with, I closed the laptop and prepared for a few days unplugged.

It's amazing how interesting arguments can get when you can't stroppily say, "Fine then - I'll just Google that", to find out if the other person is talking complete bulls**t or not. Within three evenings of lingering over plates of fresh fish and Achill lamb, we had solved the problems of the Middle East, the euro bureaucracy, figured out what was going on in Nama (well no, actually we didn't - we just didn't care anymore) and had turned to far more important matters, such as why do some people believe in stuff like homoeopathy (see next week's piece) or why kids don't notice they don't have a telly when they can roast marshmallows over an open fire?

Reluctantly, I had to concede that this "no communication" thing might be a positive. I read real books (well, on my iPad), I walked for miles (to the Wi-Fi cafe) and I slept better than I had in months (I had no choice, there was nothing else to do). Back on the mainland the world could have come to an end and I would have been blissfully unaware of the fact.

But, leaving Achill behind - after I had been reconnected with the woes of Mick Wallace courtesy of Bus Eireann - I logged onto a tsunami of emails, Tweets, DMs (direct messages) and PMs (personal messages) from people demanding to know where I was and why I was ignoring them. Some of them were very cross indeed. It's going to take me at least a fortnight to apologise to them all. And by then I'll need another holiday. Without Wi-Fi? Not a chance.


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