To phone or not to phone. That is the question

Courtney Trenwith ponders whether it is ok to switch off in today's interconnected world
By Courtney Trenwith
Thu 26 Sep 2013 05:37 PM

While Dubai’s Emirates Airline is making it easier to stay in touch with on board wifi on some of its flights, an Australian tourism board is pushing the opposite.

Tourism operators on the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland, are so sick of visitors’ eyes stuck on their phone screens instead of the region’s scenery they have written The Smarter Smartphone Code of Conduct.

The seven ‘rules’ have been printed on coasters and are being displayed in taxis and on hotel bedside tables.

They encourage tourists to turn off their phone and “make the most of the moment”.

With 1 billion mobile phones around the world and wifi access in restaurants, malls, hotels and even public transport becoming a norm, it is increasingly difficult to switch off – whether you’re addicted to Facebook, emails or simply talking to friends.

Until about 18 months ago, I was one of those phone-hooked people. For me, it was being contactable for breaking news and being connected to news websites day and night.

But in April last year a few friends and I went camping in a remote, off road location in Western Australia, where even standing on top of a sand dune and stretching my arm out would not have raised even a spark of mobile phone service.

In a sign of my ridiculous 21st century attitude, I hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t have service in the bush.

It was an uncomfortable feeling. For the first 24 hours.

After a few stern words from my friends, a bout of fishing, snorkelling with turtles and a good night’s sleep in a swag I actually forgot about my phone. It was one of the most pleasant, relaxing feelings I’ve ever felt. Instead of screening the newspapers, I discovered a long untouched stretch of lagoon beach covered in minute shells that took my breath away. I learnt to put up a tent, cook a freshly caught fish on the bbq and fix a car radiator.

In reality, there was no need for me to be contactable. I was on well-deserved annual leave – and before someone says, ‘but my job is too important’ or ‘I’m a boss’, I too was a deputy editor at the time – and baring the year’s biggest story breaking, I really wasn’t missing out on anything.

And even if the year’s biggest story did break, there’s always another year and another story. But there are few opportunities to really switch off.

The impact it had on my health, my stress and my future outlook in just three days of wilderness was amazing. Addictive, actually.

Since then I’ve had two holidays where the phone has been left in the suitcase while I’ve immersed myself in another culture, and on both occasions I’ve missed nothing important back home.

Now, I relish those few hours on a plane when no one can reach me (I haven’t had the privilege of flying on an Emirates’ A380, yet). And if I do check in on a holiday it’s usually a quick connection once a day or two, and only when it’s really important will I put my mind to replying.

So why don’t you try it. You can always warn colleagues, friends, family that you won’t be contactable for a while – that’s what Out Of Office messages and Facebook statuses are for, right?

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