Alps escape from the digital era

Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
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Last week I turned off my notifications and social media and attempted to escape the incessant, digitally connected society, that we live in today.

Thousands of feet up in the French Alps, negotiating a safe way down, with two oversized planks of wood strapped to my feet, it seemed like an easy thing to do. My biggest concern was not what some faceless Facebook ‘friend’ was having for tea but whether I still had what it took to beat my thirteen-year old daughter down the slalom course.

She too, took part in this extreme electronic experiment (unwillingly, I might add) but by day two she had forgotten all about her ‘streaks’ (I don’t know either) and her ‘stories’. It reminded me of my childhood holidays; carefree, fun and without interruption from pings and vibrations – How lucky we were, I mused, to be children in those years BC – Before Connectivity. Last week we enjoyed conversations, played games and made our own fun, with the help of some snow and some round shaped bits of plastic; sledges to you and me.

Of course, you don’t need to decamp to France to rediscover the values of life’s simple pleasures but it helps to be in a place where there is little WiFi and where data roaming costs demand that the phone becomes nothing more than an expensive, fancy camera. But what effect would our week-long trip, off the connected planet, have on us? Would our Gallic cocoon leave us feeling refreshed and invigorated or left out and alone, unfriended by our all-important online world? To be honest nothing changed; the world kept spinning, we just didn’t get an update every time it did or feel the need to comment on it.

Our missing online contributions wouldn’t have stopped Donald Trump dropping the ‘mother of all bombs’ on ISIS in Afghanistan or rattling sabres with North Korea; our presence in cyber space only ensures that when World War 3 arrives, we will know about it instantly. I may have ‘liked’ the idea of the new driving test including a sat-nav element, although, judging by what I witness on Peterborough’s roads every day, lipstick application and texting might be more relevant additions. My online petition calling for United Airlines to be stripped of their newly won contract, to resolve the NHS bed blocking crisis, would have probably failed.

I would have probably given the idea of a new railway station for Hampton the big thumbs up emoji, whilst the ‘saving’ of the Broadway theatre would have been worth a re-tweet - although both of those ideas are far from set in stone and they do come from candidates vying to become the new Mayor of Cambridgeshire. I think history has taught us to be wary of pledges and promises made by politicians, so close to an election. I am not one of those people, who has an irrational fear of the hole in the wall or who thinks that anything with the letter ‘i’ in front of it is the work of the devil. In fact, I love being connected and having email, Twitter and internet banking at my fingertips, but living solely in the real world, for seven full days, was a pleasant break from my own virtual reality. You should try switching ‘off’ sometime, it’s easier than you think.