While the rest of the world was ringing in the new year, it was my new cellphone that signalled more than simply a calendric step into the future.
If I seem a little behind the times with this column, it’s because I spent my first weeks of 2016 off-the-clock overseas. And it was on this, my first big solo backpack vacation in years, that I realized things are vastly different than they were when I was last a foreigner in a distant land.
The last time around – pre-children in the 1990s – I was hopelessly out of touch, the moment I left home, with all of those whom I held dear. During one four-month misadventure across Europe, I made exactly one call home, the payphone draining my expensive phone card more quickly than I could talk.
This time, mere minutes after I landed in Asia – my first time ever, and on points no less! – I unpacked my cellphone and sent a free message via social media, as I’d forgotten to reschedule a dental appointment the following week. Attached to that message was a live-to-Internet selfie of me with an early-morning (at least in one of my new time zones) coffee, awaiting my connecting flight from the Hong Kong airport.
From that point on, my phone stuck by my side, updating me with notifications any time I was near public Wi-Fi (which was often), even from the backstreets of the island in the Gulf of Thailand where I made my home away from home that first few days.
But in addition to keeping in touch, and taking photos, my phone had a few more unexpected tricks up its sleeve.
I awoke one morning to find that it automatically edited a video – complete with musical score from the public-domain – from a number of the images I had captured on my phone the day before while riding as a passenger on a motorcycle through the backroads of Ko Samui.
A few more clicks, and within seconds the video was posted to my main social-media account and getting ‘likes’ from North America and beyond.
Through emails to my daughter and instant messages to my two sons, there was little time to feel detached from those whom I missed most.
The one sense of detachment that impacted me greatly was self-induced. Having spent the past few years connected to the Peace Arch News on-call at all hours of the day, I made a concerted effort to not click on our website, to not look at emails and to not read the White Rock/South Surrey news that dominates our headlines year-round.
In these days of increasing 24/7 connectivity, I felt I had earned a break, if only for a moment in time.
By the end of my trip last weekend, my phone had one more surprise awaiting me. It turns out the ‘location’ setting had monitored by GPS exactly where and when I travelled every single day, mapping it all out quite nicely. Yes, the flights. Yes, the motorcycle rides. And yes, the long walks and public-transit rides through the streets of Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong.
And when I turned on my computer at work, the maps were all there sorted by date, once I logged in.
I’m not saying I’m comfortable knowing that we have become this attached to our electronics.
I only know that the time of truly getting away is past, so long as I keep an emergency phone at my side.
Lance Peverley is the editor of Peace Arch News.