Why Digital Detox Doesn’t Work for Me

To connect to places, stay connected.  
Photo by: Kerkez/istock
Photo by: Kerkez/istock

I have often heard people of another generation say, “In our time, we had none of this technology. We used paper maps and asked people for directions. Your generation is always glued to the phone.”

I have never understood this derision for smartphones, especially considering how hassle-free they have made travel. Google Maps is a necessity on most trips. Checking emails and clicking pictures is very much a part of my vacation. And I do not believe it ruins the fun. There, I’ve said it.

“Digital Detox” is the rage these days. Essentially, it is a fancy term that tells people to reduce “screen time” and not carry their smartphones on a vacation. The idea behind it, of course, is to encourage people to “live in the moment.” The best resorts seem to offer it; there are a host of websites telling you how to achieve this transcendental state of being. Believe it or not, there are even support groups which help you “log off.” Over time, I have realised I am simply not that cool.

I often find that I live better in the moment when I have my phone with me. It ensures that I know everything is sorted at work and Mum knows I am safe, thus letting me relax and just be. This in no way means I am glued to my phone. It means I have the choice to check in and then tune out. That choice, for me, is everything.

Recently, I travelled with a friend to Hampi, a boulder-strewn town with limited connectivity, in Karnataka, It was an impromptu trip, which meant that thoughts of work flooded my mind. However, with no network, there was nothing I could do other than fret. When we found a spot which offered us precious little network, the first call I made was to my colleague. I just needed to know if everything was okay.

The idea of mobile networks is linked to safety, especially for women travellers. For a woman to feel safe on a journey, being connected is important. It is fun to venture into the unknown, but the unknown often requires constant vigilance. We had a great time in Hampi, driving a rickety Activa through deserted roads lined with ruins and coconut trees. Both of us, however, were also trying to commit the roads to memory, distinguishing each lane from the other using the shape of rocks on it, or the number of coconut trees at a crossing. We were two women driving on mostly empty roads, without maps, signboards or connectivity, on a vehicle with faulty brakes. What would we do if something went wrong? As romantic as being disconnected sounds, moments like these are when I would prefer otherwise.

Hampi stands out due to its sheer magnificence—millennia-old ruins and boulders fight for attention, coracle rides are a way of life, and the silence, profound. Despite conversation which never stalled, there were moments when the both of us would reach out to our phones to call a mutual friend or to open Facebook to show a link we had thought of showing to the other. Gossip after all is incomplete without pictures. Sure the bigger stays offered Wi-Fi, ours however did not; we could hardly go hunting for Wi-Fi after dark. We valued our safety higher than any evidence.

A report on StatCounter says 79 per cent of Indians with access to Internet use their phones to connect to it, much higher than the world average of 49.7 per cent. Not surprising when the country has reportedly the world’s second-largest smartphone user base. Another poll done by Ipsos finds that 82 per cent of Indians agreed with the statement, “I cannot live without the Internet”, once again much higher than the global average of 69 per cent. This, despite having the slowest Internet speed in the Asia pacific, as per a report by Akamai Technologies. Competitive mobile data rates and cheap 4G handsets are flooding the market, making India today more connected than ever. In this digital India, why are tourist spots like Hampi ignored?

The Indian government’s website claims that over 50,000 villages without network will be connected by 2018. The idea that the next time I would visit Hampi, it would be connected will ease my mother’s mind. She, who is okay with most of my gallivanting, reached her limit with this one. “You’re never going to a place which does not have network again,” she decreed.

I am yet to acquiesce.

  • Lubna Amir is Jr. Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She travels in the search for happy places (which invariably involve a beach) and good food. When she’s not planning her next escape, you can find her curled up with a book or researching recipes.

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