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19th May 2018

The internet and me: 12,000 miles from home

Sydney Central Business District

I’ve been working in Sydney these past two weeks, staying in a gorgeous Airbnb studio in Clovelly. On one of my first working days on this trip, sitting in a café and looking out on the locals enjoying the sunshine, I was reading a piece on dialogue and digitisation by Edna Murdoch and started to reflect on my own experience that morning of being caught up in the digital world. I wrote:

There are just a few things I need to do before going out to a number of meetings today:

Change the credit card I use for Uber, as the existing one has expired. I need to ask for online instructions on my computer, then go back to the Uber app to change the card details.

Text my Airbnb host to check whether the washing machine in my studio has been mended. Apparently the motor has gone, so I need to confirm via text that I’m happy to use the communal one in the house; and can I use the ironing board if I need to? Oh, and today is rubbish collection day, so I can empty my bin into the red bin for non-recyclables.

Email my host for the workshop I’m facilitating this evening, to ask if I can bring a guest. I wait for her reply, which is affirmative, so I text my guest to confirm that she can come and give her the directions (which I look up online).

Go online to check in with Virgin for my flights to and from Adelaide tomorrow, making sure my boarding documents are sent to Australian mobile so I don’t use data roaming on my UK phone to access these.

Check what time I need to get to the airport and then book a taxi (via the Uber app) for 5.15 tomorrow morning. And arrange collection at 5.30 tomorrow evening.

Pack my bag for my workshop this evening, with all the gear I need, including laptop for slides. I also need the attachments and power cables with an Australian adapter.

Check I have my Australian mobile phone, plus the charger. This is vital, as it’s an old phone, loses battery power very quickly, and I know I’ll be on the phone all day map reading, and catching buses.

Go to the Sydney Transport App (which is fantastic) to check the times of the bus I need to catch to get to my first appointment at 11.00am.

Where am I going at 11.00am? Go to Google Maps on my computer, because it’s easier to see the map here than on my phone. Check the route from the bus stop to the meeting place. And while I’m in Google Maps, check the route to the two subsequent meetings I am going to today. Send the directions to my phone.

Emails have arrived overnight from the UK which would be useful to reply to this morning (even though I have Out of Office). Send messages to my assistant in London and ask her to attend to a couple of appointments here in Sydney, and a couple of conversations that she can set up for me when I get back to London in 10 days time.

So, I’m now ready to get on my bus!

The first hour of my day, completely dependent on internet access and multiple channels of communication, without speaking to a soul!

What would I have done without my phone and my computer and internet access? And yet, as I sit on the bus into town, I am struck by how wired I’m feeling; twitching with, ‘What else do I need to be doing?’ ‘I wonder if I’ve forgotten something?’ and ‘I hope my Aussie phone doesn’t run out of juice too quickly today’. I watch people going to work, most of them umbilically attached to their phones.

Once off the bus, I check what street I’m in on the signpost and ask someone for directions. They look into the air and then open their phones to look it up. This happened on four different occasions within a two hour period. Maybe it was just the people I asked, but what struck me was that no one knew where to go without looking it up, and the only streets or places I was looking for were within a few blocks or so of each other in the Central Business District. What is going on here, I ask? Not in Sydney per se, but in our incredible reliance on the internet.