Can you survive a weekend without internet?
Picture the scene. It was 6pm on the Friday at the start of a long bank holiday weekend and our car pulled onto the gravel drive of our rental holiday cottage in the beautiful West Wales countryside.
The car was rammed with enough food to last for three months of self-catering let alone three days and my daughters were tooled up with enough electrical devices to get through a year rather than a weekend.
Aged 16 and nearly 19 the appeal of a quick game of ‘I spy with my little eye’ faded long ago and the age-old question ‘Are we there yet?’ has long since been replaced with ‘What’s the WiFi code?’
For a split second everything was peaceful - and then it happened.
“They don’t have WiFi!!!” exclaimed my wife.
My teenage daughters looked around in disbelief – a reaction that had nothing to do with Theresa May’s decision to resign as PM earlier in the day.
“What do mean they don’t have WiFi?” asked my eldest daughter. “Everywhere has WiFi.”
Seconds later she piped up "I want to go home" and I only think she was half-joking.
I should say at the outset that I’ve got two great kids but they’re part of the generation that has a mobile phone permanently attached to their hand.
I know they love me but if I was on a life support machine in a room with only plug and their battery charge dropped below 10 per cent I’d be a goner.
“It’s only WiFi,” I said. “How hard can it be?” I was about to find out.
West Wales is one of the most beautiful places on earth and if going without internet connection for the weekend in exchange for such a beautiful spot was the price you pay then so be it.
My eldest daughter decided desperate times call for desperate measures and sacrificed a large chunk of her data allowance to stay connected with the outside world. Luckily she’s a customer of EE which seemed to be the only network with any reception.
I decided to hang out the back window, with my arm outstretched, hoping for a couple of signal bars to appear on my handset but I quickly realised the odds of getting a reception were far lower than me falling out the window and breaking my neck so I gave up.
It didn’t take long without a phone for the effects of going cold turkey to hit me. I couldn’t check my Twitter account or update my Facebook profile. I couldn’t download my favourite podcast (an Australian true crime podcast called Casefile) or check WhatsApp. I couldn’t even see what was happening on the BBC and Daily Mail apps.
Then something happened. It was imperceptible at first but the feeling grew stronger to the point I couldn’t ignore it. I found myself talking to my wife. We went in the hot tub and indulged in something called a ‘conversation’. I’d recommend it.
I won’t pretend I didn’t miss WiFi and using my phone into Saturday. I’m a massive cricket fan and kept trying to update my ECB cricket app as England were playing Australia but to no avail. I kept holding my phone as we walked round the top of the medieval Harlech Castle in Gwynedd but the reception was only marginally better.
That night we went for a meal in a rural pub and people were sitting eating their meals and talking to their companions rather than checking their social media accounts and posting a photo of their steak and ale pie on Instagram.
On Sunday it happened. We went to the coastal town of Porthmadog for an ‘emergency’ trip to Tesco. I checked my phone and I had four reception bars. The world was my oyster.
What was the first thing I’d do now that I was reconnected to the outside world? I got a score update from the League One play-off match between Sunderland and Charlton at Wembley. I don’t support either team so had no interest in the result but I did it because I could.
I posted some photos on Facebook and checked every 10 seconds to see if anyone had liked it or written a comment. Why? I’m 47 years old so why do I seek approval from others?
A few minutes later I lost reception again and went back to talking to my family. On Monday our short break came to an end and normal service was resumed and my newsfeed was full of posts about Nigel Farage and the European elections. I looked at my News app and read details of the first contestants for the latest series of Love Island. I don’t even watch Love Island.
And then it hit me. Internet might connect you to the outside world but it disconnects you to your own.
A weekend without internet was eye-opening and the unpalatable truth it told me was that I’m addicted to my mobile phone.
I’d recommend West Wales to anyone but to really appreciate its beauty, turn your mobile phone off first.
- Chris Maguire can be contacted on Twitter @editor_maguire (signal permitting!)