Swedish mobile and internet provider Telia have spent what must be a considerable part of their marketing budget on a quite silly campaign about “internet free zones”. The subtext here is of course that the internet is available where ever you want via mobile broadband, and that some of us needs a relief once and again. However, not even in the Nordic countries, this is true. Actually, half of Sweden is an internet free zone. The frustrations experienced by Swedes on holiday, though, seem harmless compared to those of 1 ooo Brits answering a recent survey about their “digital lives”.
For those how are lucky enough to have a vacation worth mentioning, summer is a time for travelling and perhaps leaving the well-known trajectories of daily routine for less familiar territories. Such travel sometimes lead to places far from the crowded and pulsating metropolitan districts, places where mobile communication infrastructure is deficient or completely missing. Many of the places people of the Nordic countries like to visit for their vacations actually are “internet free zones”* The coverage map below shows that more than half of Sweden (white and yellow** on the map) are internet free zones
However, by this term, Telia, a Swedish mobile network provider, means something completely different.
Förlåt. Nu är det enklare än någonsin att vara maximalt uppkopplad. Därför bygger vi just nu ett antal internetfria zoner som du kan besöka i sommar för maximal avkoppling – om du tycker det blir för mycket av det goda. (We must apologize. Now it is easier then ever to stay wireless to the maximum. That is why we build a number of internet free zones this summer to visit for relaxation – if you get too much of the good.)
Ok, this quote reveals a misunderstanding. In my experience, it is the lack of internet and telephone access that is stressful. The experience of data taking tens of minutes to download – if at all possible. And phone calls that just disappear. Internet free zones, dear Telia, should be a matter of not adding to and improving the mobile network. Telia has quite an interesting definition of accessing the internet “where ever you want”. If it was not for the arrogance, this would almost be fun.***
Lotta Sahlin, obviously an ordinary Swedish woman-with-grown-kids blogger, chaffs about Telia’s idea of internet free zones. She is already living in one! She complains that she cannot access the mobile internet in her summer house. She cannot even trust the mobile phone, e.g. in emergency situations. The answer she gets from Telia is that there are plans for network expansions around her location. Hmm, it seems that Telia is working hard to eradicate those relaxing no connection zones.
I have similar frustrating experiences from my summer vacations in a small village in a densely built-up region in Southern Sweden. The summer time annoyance of quite privileged but still grumpy middle-class people may not be such a big deal (“a welfare state nuisance”). However, it points out a wider and more general question.
Because now British research reveals that people are emotionally dependant on communication technology:
• 53% of Brits feel ‘upset’ when deprived of internet connection
• 40% of people surveyed feel ‘lonely’ when not able to go online
• Challenge of 24 hours without digital devices described as ‘nightmare’
The study was a survey of 1 ooo Brits of ages between 18 and over 65 with questions about their “digital lives” including how they use the internet, smart phones and other devices.
The project also involved qualitative research, including challenging participants to get through one full day without using technology. Giving up technology was considered by some to be as hard as quitting smoking or drinking, while one survey participant described it as ‘like having my hand chopped off’ and another called it ‘my biggest nightmare’.
As expected, the result varied between the young and the old. Belonging to the “old” segment, my annoyance when not being able to go on line is put in perspective by the answers of the young.
Younger people, who tend to be heavier users of social media and text messaging, found giving up technology the most difficult while older people (over-40s) generally coped more easily when cut off from digital connections. Only a minority of those surveyed reacted positively to the prospect of being without an internet connection, with 23% saying they would feel ‘free’.
The problem with this report and similar texts, however, is that the explicit focus is on technologies. Perhaps the full report is more nuanced in this sense, I have not managed to find more than the press release. It is known from other research (e.g. reported here) – not mentioning the daily experiences of people in the mobile-accessed parts of the world – that it is the content that is important: What people one needs to reach, what vital or stimulating information, what services, businesses and bargains. Today life itself, in all its aspects, evolves with the help of phoning, texting and accessing the internet. To be deprived of that is to be bereaved of important areas of life, to fall between the meshes into the region of the para-nodal, an idea developed by Ulysses Meijas. The paranodal is all that goes on between the digitally connected nodes, that is traditional daily social life. Today, those people limited to this region may feel abandoned. And objectively speaking, they are to some extent left out by the rest of us (in my life: a handful of my late fathers friends). The paranodal, I believe, is about the loneliness shortly mentioned above, felt when not being able to (for the young: immediately) getting in touch with friends and family.
* Internetfria zoner, see Telia (the term is probably copyright protected)
** In my experience, yellow (3G + Edge) means that the internet works poorly or not at all.
*** Ta med dig internet vart du vill med ett mobilt bredband. Vi har abonnemang för alla hastigheter och behov, både för datorn och surfplattan, från 89 kr/månad. Och du kan vara säker på att ha maximal uppkoppling var du än är. Nu dubblar vi dessutom hastigheten på våra 4G-abonnemang! (Bring internet where ever you want with mobile broadband. We have plans for all speeds and needs etc.)