Going off the grid: What I learned after a week without technology in an “apocalypse dome”. By Steve Dinneen
"Smartphones are the new cigarettes,” screams one headline. “Why smartphones are making you ill,” warns another. Virtually everyone who lives in a city bemoans being connected to thousands of other human beings from the second they wake to the moment they fall asleep.
My relationship with technology is especially ambivalent. I fill every second of every day with some form of sensory input. John Humphrys’ voice wakes me in the morning; I listen to podcasts on the commute into the office; I check Twitter obsessively throughout the day; Sky News drones away in the background while I work; I fall asleep listening to an audio-book. It’s exhausting.
I’d estimate that 80 per cent of fights between my partner and I stem from one of us checking our phone; it’s infuriating to see your own flaws reflected back at you in another person, a brief glimpse into the black mirror of your own digital addiction. Like many modern households, we intermittently enforce rules – “No phones in the bedroom”, “No phones after 9pm” – but the fundamental issue, that we instinctively check social media at least once every 10 minutes, goes unchecked.
The barrage is incessant, yet I tell myself it’s necessary to my professional and social wellbeing, that without it I’d fall out of the loop, be poorer for my lack of a considered opinion on whether it’s okay to discuss Theresa May’s shoes. So I went cold turkey. Not just from social media, but from everything and everyone, living alone and off the grid, to see if I would lose my grip on reality like Jack Torrance in The Shining, or have some messianic epiphany about how we could all live Better Lives.
A project called The Clearing gave me the platform. It’s the brainchild of artists Alex Hartley – best known for towing a big rock from the Arctic to the south coast of England and declaring it an independent nation – and Tom James. They built a geodesic dome in the grounds of the beautiful Compton Verney estate a few miles outside Leamington Spa, hoping to make people think about how we might all have to live if we run out of fossil fuels or nuke each other into oblivion.