Internet on a rock in the ocean

We were on Norfolk Island, a rock in the Pacific halfway between Australia and New Zealand. Getting there had been fun with an international flight on Air New Zealand between two parts of Australia – a legacy of the time when up to recently Norfolk Island had been a self governing overseas territory, and has now reverted to being governed from Canberra.

Politics aside, this meant that Norfolk Island has done its own thing as regards telecoms provision – no mainland phone companies, a call to mainland Australia still counts as an international call, and the local mobile network remains resolutely 2G, although a 4G service is planned for later this year.

Internet connectivity is grudging – while the NBN is on its way, with by implication a decent connection, most wifi provision is like you ot in the early noughties – you have to buy data in advance (300MB for $12), log into a hotspot, and wait.

Web and webmail only just works, thunderbird manages to connect to gmail on the second or third attempt, meaning that you are basically limited to email, and the more text based the better. Really it’s like the old days of popmail, grab your messages, download them, read and reply offline ane reconnect to send – in fact if your email provider still provides a POP service, it might be worth installing and configuring one if you are a heavy email user.

Twitter, messenger and all the rest don’t really work that well – the link is just too slow.

If you want to blog, old skills come to the fore with everything being prepared online and only uploaded when ready – just like in the days of dialup where time online was precious and needed to be used to the max.

And this has interesting side effects – people still talk to each other in cafes, rather than staring at their phones or tablets – in fact tablets, whether Apple or Android are really just dead slates – all these applications that expect a degree of connectivity just don’t work – we got caught out with the Apple Kindle app that really is simply a presentation tool for your ebooks stored in the cloud, unlike the ‘proper’ Kindle that caches books locally for offline reading.

Likewise uploading photos to cloud based storage services or viewing online news sites really is a non starter – lynx for text based web and a character only rss reader would be more sensible.

I never took a computer with me much before 2007 – I found them more trouble than their weight justified before then – poor or non existent wifi, eye wateringly expensive hotel internet – instead I used internet cafes.

Then with the arrival of the EEEpc701 – and I still have mine, albeit with a different linux version than the original Asus EEE distribution – there was a computer that was small enough and light enough to take travelling, even if the powersupply was a bit of a brick, and more and more cheap or free wifi was becoming the norm, and with services like Eduroam, academic travel was easier (and of course if one had a Uni eduroam account there was nothing to stop one slipping onto some campus somewhere to check your email eveven if you were travelling for fun.

However, for the moment, Norfolk Island must be one of the few places in the world unaffected by smartphone culture.

People have written about digital detoxes, and breaking free from twitter, and go off to strange places in the bush to be incommunicado and do yoga.

The reality is that most people go straight back to social media as soon as they’ve finished chanting ‘om’, ane email and electronic communication are an inescapable part of work and home life, be it ordering stuff online, trcking orders or the rest.

What a visit to a place like Norfolk Island teaches you (or reminds you) is that all you need is a bit of perspective – like in the early noughties with limited communication and bandwidth, you ration yourself, and only do what is necessary, and ignore the rest …

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About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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