In this age where everything is accessible online, from where to go to what to eat, the Internet is setting us up to be digitally obese.
We’ve all heard why it’s good to be away from technology and immerse fully in the local travelling experience, but nobody talks about how to cope with the fear of living without it.
For us digital natives, it is almost second nature to dig out our phones when we are lost/ bored/ lonely/ restless. We use our phones to curb the fear of feeling lonely, to quash the fear of getting lost, to dispel the fear of having nothing to do. It’s disastrous, isn’t it?
“We are in an endless lock-in at the all-you-can-eat big-byte buffet and we’ve eaten the key. We are becoming increasingly immobilised by our mobile selves, screeching to a halt mid stride, sentence or sleep to answer the seductive vibration and ping of another digital missive. We are increasingly crippled by the devices sitting in front of us, paralysed by the mere thought of losing power or connection. More and more of us are quietly and invisibly suffocating under the sheer weight of multiple personas, accounts, passwords, profiles and screen devices. For some, digital citizenship is crushing, both physically and spiritually.”
– Julian Borra, here
I had an encounter with a friend who’s petrified of leaving his comfort zone to a foreign country over the weekend. Not because he’s leaving his comfort zone, but because he fears living without an Internet connection. During my first days of entering my residence when the internet connection had not yet been set up, I’ve had friends flipping the table and desperately looking for any way possible to fire up wifi.
In the times when I’ve lived without any phone plan or wifi, I was proud to say I was thankful for those erstwhile moments. My life quietened. It became simpler, clearer. I felt like my soul was being rid of dust specks. It was being cleansed.
I could make time to do the things I want to but always never found time to.
I could write in my journal.
I could read.
I could organize my life.
I could watch the sun set without rushing it.
I could sleep.
Most of all, I could hear my thoughts, loud and clear and uninterrupted. These days, I catch myself hearing my thoughts before I sleep, when I wake up, on a train (when I’m not plugged in), these solitude moments when I don’t have to worry about which stop to get off, about being late for school/ appointments, when I’m wandering with no agenda in mind. In Singapore, I don’t have the luxury of time because there would always be something to do, something to work on, something to research about, appointments to meet… There’s always something to work towards, because the society demands that you not rest on your laurels. When was the last time you let your thoughts wander?
The best thing about travelling without Wifi? It’s getting lost.
With getting lost, you never know what to expect. Without expectations, everything in front of you becomes a sight to behold, a memory to be etched. In my first days in Paris while exploring alone and not knowing a clue where I was going, I blindly turned a corner and caught the grandest sight- the Eiffel Tower in its glittering lights across the River Seine, GLOWING in front of my very eyes. It was the first time I set my eyes on the Eiffel Tower, and to catch it by pure chance in a backdrop of red hues, it’s a memory you’ll never forget. It’s like how your first love will always hold a special place in your heart.
You face your fears, and do it anyway. I remember recalling this quote when I was in the crossroads in a forest in Stroud. No wifi, no map. Only my gut. And when you’ve found what you were looking for at the end of the road, that is a celebration of your own little life’s achievements.
Isn’t this the perfect metaphor for life? In your teenage life’s crisis, you have to decide on major decisions- what subjects to take, what schools to choose, what course to select. In your post-uni life crisis, you have to decide on which jobs to take up- for money and fame or for interest and passion? Instead of looking at all the external determinants (which is the lucrative industry, which path has better career prospects, which is the popular choice), my best and simplest bet is to trust your gut. If you would only listen to yourself, you’ll find that there’s a compass pointing in the direction you’ve somehow failed to notice, because of all the other distractions that life throws at you. After all, everyone seeks happiness and fulfilment in their lives ultimately. The best choices are the ones that make you so.
With getting lost, you open yourself to approaching locals to ask for directions. I’ve always harboured this (maybe naive) thought that a stranger can turn into someone who would have an impact in your life. Well, I haven’t exactly found or encountered that someone yet, but I haven’t given up hope. I once heard an experiment from a French friend I met in Nice about conducting this human experiment: go to a bar alone, order a drink, sit for 30 minutes, and wait to see if you’ll be approached by anyone within that 30 minutes. This stranger I spoke to in Cannes, when I talked about how I haven’t met much French people to form an impression about them, said I needed to venture outside my comfort zone (and in to bars) to start talking to people. I scoffed. Well, if one day I’m too deprived of company/ bored with life/ have enough gusto, maybe I might think about giving this experiment a try.