Thursday, February 26, 2015

I Went "Off the Grid" for Four Days

Brain Chemistry

My smartphone is indispensable; it is also physically altering my brain chemistry.

Every time my phone beeps, bings, buzzes, twirps, or tweedles, I actually twitch. If I hear a noise from my phone as I'm drifting off or early in the morning, a rush of adrenaline courses through my body. I have to check the phone or force my body to calm down. During the day, even if I don't hear or feel my phone buzz or ring, every few minutes I reflexively look to my phone or think about it. If I haven't heard anything for fifteen minutes, I pick it up to see if I missed something.

This is despite the fact that I do just fine without my smartphone 25 hours every week on shabbat (plus holidays).

The Opportunity

I had a week to relax between two jobs, but I wanted to make progress on my book, something that I find difficult to do in my house with the call of daily tasks, unlimited media on the internet, and my smartphone.

Hotels in Israel are (relatively) inexpensive right now, being off season. I picked the Leonardo Plaza hotel in Ashdod with 4 days off the grid: no phone, no internet, no email, no messages. For emergencies I was reachable at the hotel. I wanted to see if I could live without the grid for four days.

I invited my son Saarya and my daughter Tal to join me on condition that they used no internet or cell phones in my vicinity (I didn't want to hear disembodied conversations or the usual assortment of continuous beeps and tweedles). Saarya agreed to live off the grid like me for two days. Tal agreed to pretend to be off the grid in my presence.

What follows are separate reports: one about the hotel / vacation and one about living off the grid.

The Vacation

Ashdod is closer to Raanana than I realized, but it feels like a world removed from my home. The hotel is on the beach; it is mid-winter (which means a chilly breeze and cloudy weather) but it's still a beach: pretty dunes, nice waves, and colorful sunsets when it is not overcast.

Working in the hallway of the 9th floor
In front of the hotel is a gigantic, uh, eye / sideways flying saucer stuck in the ground. It's about 10 meters high and lit up with colored lights at night. I don't even.

Ashdod; an empty pool
The hotel is new, so everything is clean. The staff is friendly and helpful. When it comes to a choice between denying you something or giving you something, they give it to you; they really want to make you happy. The room comes with a plate of exotic fruits and bottles of San Pellegrino water and Marom Galil wine. It has cable TV. The first two days there were no movie channels; I thought this was because they sell movies POD, but the channels mysteriously appeared during the second two days. It has a hair dryer, water heater, fridge, and a comfortable bed and sleeping couch.

The hotel has a pool, but it's an outdoor pool that is not open in the winter months. I forgot to think about that. Tip: consider an indoor pool if you're vacationing in the winter. The hotel has a spa, but it costs extra for daily use, even the exercise room. I forgot to think about that. It has a business lounge which is adults only with a buffet of light foods and drinks, some computers and printers, and a private room. Access to the lounge is only for business guests.

My daughter and I spent some time on the beach but didn't get to see a sunset (the one day we waited for it, the sky was gray).

When I first arrived, I approached the reservation desk a little unhappy with myself for having picked a hotel without an indoor pool. Then I found out that, as an Israeli citizen, I have to pay VAT, which is 18% on top of the reservation price. I'm sure that if I search the site I will find that little detail mentioned somewhere, but it came as a surprise to me. Bleah.

(If I had simply presented my American passport, they wouldn't have asked about my citizenship and I could have avoided paying the VAT.)

While processing my reservation I mentioned to the receptionist that I had forgotten to notice the lack of an open pool, the lack of free access to the exercise room, and now this additional not insignificant VAT cost. I asked if there were some way she could offer me something for my ... uh, disappointment. To my surprise, she gave me and my kids access to the basic spa (exercise room and jacuzzi) and the business lounge for free for the duration of our stay, which was generous. Also, the extra charge for my son turned out to be slightly less than I had thought, which was also nice.

The spa also has several rooms for expensive massages and scrubs of different kinds, including some for couples. The first floor of the hotel has a reasonably-priced salon / barber and a store that sells hair and beauty products as well as some of the usual hotel items.

The first evening the three of us spent with my cousin who lives in Nir Galim, a moshav just north of Ashdod.

The hotel breakfast is yummy, with a vast assortment of delicious foods and drinks, some made to order. We didn't eat any of the other hotel meals.

I got some good progress done on my book, spending much of the time in the business lounge. 

The hotel was generally an oasis of quiet except for the one day that a number of Israeli groups arrived, talking loudly in all the hallways and pushing all the wrong buttons in the elevators. That day the business lounge was unusable all morning and afternoon. The group clattered around, messily eating all the food and YELLING at and to each other while standing right next to where I was trying to work. When I asked them to be quieter, they moved two feet away from my table and continued to yell, anyway. I moved to in a mini-seating area next to the elevators on 9th floor. Things quieted down later in the afternoon. 

The hotel also has a little food court with drinks, pasta, salad, and pizza, reasonably priced.

During checkout, I asked reception if I could work in the business lounge for several hours again, even after I checked out, and they said yes.

On the way home I made a stop in TA to execute a Magic card exchange. I gave 15 cards and received in exchange 8,016 cards. Since the exchange wasn't entirely equitable, he also gave me an additional 40 NIS.

Those are stacks of 100 cards each.

Off the Grid

This turned out to be difficult.

After arriving at the hotel (using Waze, of course), I set my phone to airplane mode. But the reservation desk required my reservation in order to calculate my VAT, so I had to briefly grid up to send it to them. In that brief moment, I saw at least three relatively important emails come in, including one that weighed on me for the rest of the evening: it was something from my previous work that I needed to respond to (a financial issue). I thought that it could wait until the end of the week, but if it was going to bother me the whole week, it didn’t really make sense to ignore it. When I returned to the hotel later that evening there was a message waiting for me at the hotel; the sender of this email wanted my response ASAP. So I gridded up again to print out the email, sign the form, scan it, and send it back.

In preparation for rendezvousing with Saarya on the first evening, I told him that I would meet him at a certain place at a certain time. I told him that, if I was late, or he wasn't there, within 45 minute, to proceed by public transport to my cousin. I had written down the necessary directions to get to our meeting point and from there to my cousin. However, as Tal and I walked to the car she told me that Saarya was not at the agreed upon location but at a different location altogether; apparently he had gotten a ride with someone and they had been unable to drop him off in that location since they had driven a different route. If my daughter hadn't left her phone on, Saarya might have been able to message me through the hotel reception, but it probably would not have gotten to me. So I gridded up again to navigate to the new location.

The next morning I checked to see if my scan had arrived by email, and it had. Back off the grid.

Without searching for a restaurant online, we were unable to find a nice place to eat on the second evening (I suppose we could have asked hotel reception) or print out a coupon. Luckily we didn’t have to pay for parking in downtown Ashdod, for which I need my smartphone. On a different evening, we didn’t eat at a restaurant in the mall because I couldn’t look up reviews on my phone. I ultimately decided to not eat there because it seemed under-populated; I assumed that if it was any good it would be mobbed with people. Maybe. I don’t remember how I made this kind of decision before the internet.
Working: Without any formal distractions, I found myself fidgeting every half hour or so. I had to get up and walk around. I had no YouTube to check, no news to see, no emails to check and file. Instead I wondered about them.

It turned out that, in place of movie channels, the hotel TV system included a primitive search for YouTube videos (and Facebook, somehow, but we didn’t try that). At night, we watched a comedy routine on YouTube instead of a random television program in the evening. This felt like cheating.

At one point I tried to sync my music to my laptop, but that required an internet connection to log into Apple; so I executed a brief grid up. Later I heard some music that I wanted to identify and remember. I had to grid up my phone for a moment to use Shazam. I also wanted to back up my work, which required a quick laptop grid up to access Google Drive.

On the fourth day, I turned my phone on in the morning to check for messages and received one from a prospective renter to take over my lease. I called him to discuss it. I told the guy that I would be unreachable again until the next morning because my phone / internet is off while I’m on vacation. I could hear his jaw drop. He told me how much he loved the idea and wished he could do it.

On the last day, I gridded up my phone and left it on. The Internet was still off on my computer. Luckily, my phone didn't beep too often.
All in all, it was a colossal failure and proof that I will be one of the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes.

1 comment:

gma J said...

Your experiment sounds as if it was very difficult to stick to, but I applaud you for trying. Nice you took Saarya and Tal on vacation with you. Julia (grandmother)