Remember when you used to go on holiday and completely lose track of what was happening back home?
In the days before the internet and widespread satellite TV, the only way to get news from your home country was to buy an overpriced newspaper that was a few days out of date (if you could even find one). You could get news, of course, but it was from a local perspective, and it showed you how different people’s priorities can be. Unless your home country was at war or experiencing a natural disaster, it probably wouldn’t feature. Instead, you’d watch or read about a whole different set of issues.
If it had been long trip, you’d come back home and experience some dissonance as you came across references you didn’t understand to events you weren’t aware of. It would take some time to readjust to life back home.
There’s something healthy about that, I think: both the opportunity to escape from your own concerns for a while, and the chance to learn about someone else’s, to see the world through their eyes.
Travelling but not travelling
Now, it’s very different. We carry our devices everywhere with us, and we read the same news we could get back home. When we put them down, we have televisions offering us 24-hour news from CNN, the BBC, France 24, Al Jazeera, RAI, Deutsche Welle, and so on and on and on. We’re connected to home all the time. We’re travelling in the body, but our minds are often tethered to home.
So I’ve spent the past couple of years travelling around in a strange kind of dual reality. I’m sitting by a Norwegian fjord or a Saharan sand dune, and I reach for my phone in an idle moment, open up The Guardian, and read what crazy thing Theresa May just said about Brexit.
It’s good to keep up with news back home, of course—particularly big things like Brexit. But I don’t really need to be quite so deeply in touch. I could read a summary once a month, and that would be enough.
The cost of always being connected
And the cost of keeping in touch with news in the UK is that I’m not completely immersed in the place I’m visiting. It’s not just about news, either—having dozens of books stacked up on my Kindle and being able to download an unlimited number of extra ones means that I’m less likely to go to a bookshop and find some local literature. Having access to so many familiar movies and TV shows online makes me less likely to head out into the streets and find a local cinema showing a local movie. And then, of course, there’s social media…
In short, I’m here but not here. I see one world in front of me, and another on my phone and computer. As I said, it’s not all a bad thing. Keeping in touch with friends and family is great, and so is having access to news and books from all over the world, wherever I am. I make my living online, so I’m not going to be disconnecting any time soon. But I do think there’s something important about being truly immersed in one place, and that we’re losing something by being perpetually connected to something other than what’s in front of us.
What do you think? Do you take your devices with you when you travel and stay connected to life back home, or do you prefer to cut the cord?