I saw the article in one of the glossy weekend supplements that comes with the French newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ which I try to read while I’m on vacation in France. The photography is beautiful, the articles intelligent, and it’s good for my French (I read it with the aid of a dictionary). As the house we are staying in has no TV this is our principal way of keeping up with what’s happening in the world outside (don’t tell me to listen to the news on the radio. French radio newsreaders and reporters gabble away unintelligibly, scarcely pausing for breath even between paragraphs, let alone sentences and words).
The picture at the top of the article (shown above) portrays a demure young lady sitting on a hotel bed. The balloon over her head shows that she is thinking: ‘Vichy by night, without a TV or a smartphone. I’m going to write about this on Facebook!’ The article describes in detail the agonies the poor dear went through in order to write an article about her experiences during a weekend of ‘digital detox’ prescribed for her to overcome her addiction to the various electronic means of communication. Some books were provided, but the rest of the time she was thrown back on her own resources for passing the time (spa, swimming pool, dining room, etc.), poor thing.
I felt a passing pang of pity for the unfortunate journalist, never fearing that I would soon be sharing her fate, although without the luxury hotel.
Being away from home and family at a time when there is a full-scale war on is an unsettling experience. One doesn’t want to belabour the point, but maintaining contact with one’s loved ones and learning about what’s going on assumes paramount importance, and so one finds oneself checking emails, news sites, Facebook, etc. with almost insane intensity and frequency.
And then, for a variety of technical reasons, we suddenly found ourselves without internet or phone connection. We have learned to live with the occasional electricity cuts occasioned by thunderstorms, which are quite frequent in this part of France. But those cuts usually last a few seconds, minutes, or even hours. They never go on for several days.
Suddenly, without warning, we were cut off from the outside world. No internet. No Mako. No Facebook. Not even Amazon. And no phone line either, because the phone goes via the internet provider. We, too, were thrown back on our own resources, and found ourselves paying closer attention to the French-language news broadcasts and in the interim consoling ourselves with books, or venturing to the next village in order to pick up the internet connection in the local café. The only small corner of redemption was provided by our iphones, which allowed us minimal contact with the world outside.
When we phoned to find out what was happening we were told that the problem would be solved within a week at the most. ‘A whole week!’ I screamed at the nice (English-speaking) lady at the other end of the phone line. ‘That is very hard for us.’ I didn’t go into all the details as to why this was so, but I begged her to do whatever she could to expedite matters. She said there was very little she could do, but she would add a note to our file.
In my desperation I had resorted to watching half an hour or so of a DVD I had brought along with me (a beautiful old film, ‘Stavisky,’ directed by Alain Resnais) every evening. And so, after supper on the fourth evening, which also happened to be the evening of the day on which I had spoken to the nice lady at the information section of the internet provider, when I had just settled down to watch my evening ration of ‘Stavisky’ (based on a true story, incidentally) the cry went up from the other room, ‘We have internet!’
Was it a coincidence or had my pleas helped? Worse still, what is one to do in such cases? Drop everything and fly back into the (metaphorical) arms of email, Facebook, Mako and co. or continue watching ‘Stavisky’? I made a half-hearted attempt to watch Stav. while simultaneously looking at my emails. As anyone could have guessed, that didn’t work.
But after a briefer than usual episode of Stav. I allowed myself to indulge in a cup of (decaffeinated) coffee and then devote myself to catching up with all my old friends until well past midnight.
So much for digital detox. I hope it worked better for the poor lady journalist than it did for me. But at least she got her two-page article and byline in ‘Figaro.’
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