“Whitney Houston died!” was how I greeted Paul on Sunday morning after consulting Twitter.
“Yeah, I know,” was the response. He’d already seen the news on NOS Teletext.
Staying up to date with news from home and abroad has always been tricky. You don’t get the newspaper delivered every morning, you don’t switch on the TV news at night while making dinner and conversations with others focus on where you’ve been and where you’re going, full stop.
A number of Very Big Things happened when I’ve been oblivious on the road; the Black Saturday bushfires, Osama bin Laden’s death and Gordon Brown becoming UK prime minister. Irregular consultation of gossip magazines meant that I thought Anna Nicole Smith was alive for much longer than was actually the case.
Backpackers often claim to belong to one of two separate camps. One group claims that one of the joys of travelling is completely switching off from the world. They don’t wear a watch, they rarely check their emails and they don’t have a mobile phone, let along a roaming SIM card.
Those on the other side of the spectrum don’t rely on such self-identification. Instead, you’ll be able to pick them out yourself; they’re a relatively new phenomenon. They’re in the common room in hostels each night seemingly attached to their laptops and other gadgets. They’ll be tweeting, Skyping and uploading photos at such a rapid rate that those at home hear from them more often than when they’re nearby. This is one of the negatives of the widespread rollout of easy access to free wifi at hostels; it’s made us backpackers less social.
Those in the first group are very noble. And they know this. They will audibly ‘tut-tut’ when they see a member of the other species. (They also tend to wear clothes made of hemp, have a cooking set hanging off their backpack and have a telling odour.)
Me? I’d love to be diplomatic and say I have a foot in both camps, and it’s true in part. Having an iPhone means that I’m connected to the world whenever I’m in a wifi hotspot, which tend to be more prevalent in Asia than in Europe or Australia. More importantly, I blog for God’s sake, and blogging takes a hell of a lot more time than it looks. Finally, to seal the deal, one of my start-up tabs on my web browser is The Age Online, so I knew about Andrew Krakouer’s leave pass before a Melburnian could pass on the unfortunate news.
Because, let’s face it, being away from home for prolonged periods of time can be hard. Sometimes even lonely, in fact. Just like emailing or texting someone is easier than actually picking up a phone, sometimes it’s just less daunting to bury your head in your computer than chat to those around you, who are also kicking back after a day of discovering a new city, a new culture and hey, now probably some new beers.
Thankfully, I started backpacking before free wifi at hostels became the norm. I started this blog at a time when I’d fork out a few euros for an hour at a dingy internet cafe with questionable clientele. Unsurprisingly, I’d spend as little time as possible at such establishments and instead maximise my time sightseeing and socialising.
It seems counterproductive or even old-fashioned to wish for a return of the internet cafe, an invention that disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared, but I do, in a nostalgic kind of way.
And although don’t have a cooking set hanging off the Beast and a recent count confirmed that I currently own twelve different haircare products, I also have two quick-dry towels and carry around empty drink bottles until I find a recycling point. Yep, feet in both camps.