Sunday, 21 December 2008

Life in le (French) twilight zone

Life for the past couple of weeks has been a little like living in a parallel universe.

Forced to live without modern technology, I took a journey back to something that could almost be described as a return to the dark ages.

All right so that might appear something of an exaggeration on reflection, but it’s not that far off the mark, as I lost the Internet connection at home.

Modern technology, or the lack thereof, had me alternately experiencing pain, joy, relief and frustration – sometimes individually, often collectively.

Gone are the days – here in France at least – of clumsy connections.

Wifi (“whiffy” – remember?) means that I can plonk myself down in front of my laptop just about anywhere in the house – et voilà – I’m online.

Great for those elusive moments of (in)frequent inspiration or the rare times when I actually “require” the Internet.

But probably like a great number of fellow addicts, I’m rubbish at restrained use and frequently find myself surfing wantonly just “because I can.”

Until that was, Mother nature – or perhaps more accurately the French utility EDF – stepped in and briefly turned my world upside down, inside out or maybe even the right way around.

Last week there was a sudden surge of power – just a couple of seconds’ worth – and “Poof!” that little miracle of an invention the Livebox (courtesy of Orange/France Telecom, which would have us all believe there were two companies when in fact they are just different facets of the same one) which provides the Wifi connection, blinked what to all intents and purposes appeared to be its last little green light.

Wouldn't you just love to do this sometimes?

Help! How would I check my emails? What about staying in touch with people in far flung places? More to the point, I wouldn’t be able to share news from France with the rest of the world (well no great loss there, you might well be cheering) and much, much more.

I rang France Telecom in desperation, hoping that one of their kindly techies would be able to guide me through the reconnection process, still firmly convinced that the Livebox could be revived.

But “no’ came the response. It was a lost cause, and the only option was to take a trip to the nearest Internet supplier, break open the wallet, and purchase a new box.

That of course would mean happily following the instructions, getting horribly confused as I tried to follow the “simple” (re)installation procedure step by step and then spending hours on the ‘phone to someone in Morocco (which is where France Telecom seems to outsource its services for Apple) in an attempt to connect.

“Been there, done that, seen the movie and bought the T-shirt,” I thought.

“How about taking the radical step and going ‘cold turkey’ – ie; living without a connection (at home) for a while, and rewinding the clock to a time when the Net wasn’t the be all and end all?” I mused.

And that’s exactly what I decided to try – just for a few days at least. A technological “time out”, if you will.

The result? Well getting up in the morning no longer meant logging on and checking my mails or sending them, because I couldn’t.

So I sat down and ran off a couple of letters (how old fashioned) remembering that I could physically “write”, and I worked my way through the Christmas card list – ahead of time.

And here’s something of a scoop. Rather than scanning the French and foreign press online, catching up on everything almost before it had actually happened, I picked up a book or a wrestled with a broadsheet and actually read the things

Instant messaging was impossible, so I made full use of the ‘phone and had a jolly good (albeit probably more costly) natter with friends and family.

I listened to the radio – I mean really listened, not just heard. I watched the television.

The house reverberated to the sound of real conversation, and not just the “tap, tap, tap” of fingers fling across the keyboard. In fact everyone seemed to have rediscovered that not only did they have five fully functioning senses, but social skills to boot.

For me, the initial frustration of being apparently “cut off” was replaced by the gradual realisation that I could actually live without the Net – and vice versa.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been a hermit stuck in a virtual reality. But the two-second electricity surge (and a similar 30-minute power cut a couple of days later) brought home to me just how much I had been dependent on the Net in my private life.

In a way I had been given a much-needed elbow-in-the-ribs revelation of something I had forgotten.

The world didn’t stop because I was offline – either for me or anybody else.

In a sense it was almost like a holiday – Christmas come early – and perhaps a sign as to what I should be including among my New Year’s resolutions.

So with that in mind, from this particular corner of the world to all of you out there who have made it to the end of this and other posts I’ve written, Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année – as they would say here in France.

And until 2009 - perhaps.

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