My South African Adventure: Technology-Starved Amish Lifestyle is not for Me [BLOG]
By Cath Everett | February 15, 2013 10:25 PM EST
I feel like an Amish. Well, not quite. But nearly.
I'm on technology starvation rations and, just to labour a rather tired metaphor, am starting to really crave nourishment - something that I, as a confirmed and devout Luddite despite writing about the technology industry for years, never thought that I'd hear myself saying.
But here in our lovely B&B in the heart of Stellenbosch, getting an internet connection is a decidedly hit-and-miss affair, which is all very disconcerting.
Sure, I can take advantage of my husband's paid-for WiFi service when he's not using it for important work things, or is simply not around because he's off on one of his trips to the office in Johannesburg or whatever.
But it's not exactly the reliable, always-on, flat-rate connection I've come to know and take no notice of because I'm so used to it being around.
All in all, this technology-sparse existence has proven to be a bit of a culture shock. After literally being wired into the network for years and barely leaving my home office, apart from weekends and the odd night of bed-rest, I am now cast adrift. Lost. Dazed and confused. Etc.
And I feel very cut off as a result. While I can't say that I miss the endless round of press releases and PR bumpf that has clogged my email box for years, I do yearn for the regular, and almost instant, contact that I'd carelessly taken for granted with family and friends.
Eager to hear gossip from home
And it's just this kind of contact that is particularly important when you're in foreign climes. When you're feeling a little bit dislocated and a little bit lonely, and a little bit eager to hear the gossip from home.
So being a recently outed digital junkie who is now going cold turkey, I'm finding it quite a lot to take on board really.
But even when my Beloved and I finally do get a place - and an internet connection - of our own, it seems that normal service may not be entirely resumed.
While a flat-rate, satellite-based system does appear to be on offer in some (mainly rural, I think) areas, the other alternative, as far as I can gather, is to wet your finger, stick it in the air to estimate monthly usage, and go for some kind of package on that basis.
It's like stepping back in time to some long-forgotten place in the 2000s before BT was trumped by the likes of Virgin and forced to offer flat-rate connections or lose customers. Only that kind of competition doesn't seem to have happened here.
But what this new reality means, I fear, is that I still won't be able to wantonly log on to the BBC website on a whim, because each thoughtless download will inevitably start eating into my allowance.
And if I can't contain myself at the start of the month in my hapless quest to stay in touch by using email and even, God forbid, Skype, what horrible state of withdrawal will I be in by the end as my apparently insatiable lust finds itself unsatisfied?
It doesn't bear thinking about, particularly in the event that the credits for texting on my pay-as-you-go phone from the UK, er, go. Things will get serious then.
But that brings me to another point. While this may or may not come as a surprise, I have recently discovered that it's easier to join a Virgin Active gym here than it is to get a mobile phone.
So what exactly does this interesting fact say about South Africa? I'm still trying to work that one out.
But as is most probably also the case in the UK (although being a native, I haven't had the experience,) the real sticking point in becoming a happy, satisfied, digitally undivided technology consumer is the problem of having no fixed abode - a situation that most newcomers to the country will inevitably find themselves in.
It doesn't seem to matter too much to Virgin Active, which will sign you up with a flash of your passport and flick of a credit card. To 'Join the Movement', all you have to do then is answer a few basic health questions and Bob's your uncle
Where's the evidence?
But signing up to a mobile phone contract is quite a different matter. Yes, you still need your passport for ID purposes but you also have to have three months' worth of South African bank statements and evidence of a permanent address.
And to get hold of those precious statements in a country that seems to put more store by them than a credit rating, guess what it is you need? Oh yes, it's a fixed abode. So it's back to a pay-as-you-go half-life for me.
The sad thing is that, despite having done voluntary work in an emergency homeless hostel in Cambridge for years, I hadn't truly understood just how difficult being without a place of your own really does make doing anything else.
In essence, without an address, you can't even manage the basics.
Without online distractions and the temptation of a juicy TV drama (we've only got terrestrial choices at the B&B and, boy, are they rubbish - I thought US news was bad. And don't even get me started on the soaps...) to slob out in front of following a hard day's work, I find that I've got a lot more time for reading, writing, meditation, exercise (see Virgin Active above) as well as that much-fabled healthy cooking and eating.
In fact, I've now got time to indulge in all of those things that I've been promising myself I'll do more of for years, but never seemed to get round to. So maybe, just maybe, the Amish lifestyle isn't quite so bad as it first appeared to be after all.
Cath Everett is a journalist who has written about business, technology and HR issues for over 20 years. She has recently moved from the UK to South Africa with her husband
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