This weekend I had a very scary experience. Early Saturday I flew to Düsseldorf to attend a reunion of old motorcycling friends I hadn’t seen in many years. This nostalgic event was taking place in a private brewery in the former coal-mining town of Castrop-Rauxel. A few hotel rooms were squeezed in above the malty vats, so I booked an overnight stay. But not before checking the website and noting that there was ample free wifi.
Not so, as it turned out. The wifi was disconnected, dead. I was given some cock and bull story about a previous guest having downloaded questionable material resulting in the proprietors suffering a 1,000 euro fine. Donner und blitzen, I thought, with little charity.
This unhelpful development cast a shadow over the weekend. I was forced to turn on the iPhone’s data roaming—a desperate measure if ever there were one—and take advantage of Vodafone’s £2-a-day package. This provides a modest 25Mb of data. It’s a good deal but it pays not to go over the limit or every additional megabyte costs £1.
Then came further disaster. I could get a very weak 3G signal only if I hung out of the window or walked 50 meters down the road. Most of the time alI I saw on the top bar was the little circle symbol which usually means “don’t even bother trying”. At least four times I had to make an excursion to the street corner so I could fill Instapaper with news and send a few emails. I think the Polizei call it lurking with intent. The iPad was similarly out of action and there was no chance of even a short MacFilos post.
Now back in wifi civilisation at the airport, I am a chastened person. I have glimpsed the past and I don’t like it. In the last few years I’ve never been without the Internet for a whole day and a night. It isn’t a pleasant experience, let me tell you. At least I had time to chat to the old biking gang and I was taken back to a time when mobile phones, 3G, wifi and the internet didn’t exist: a time when a Lucas magneto was the most sophisticated electronic device we had to contend with. We were happy because we didn’t know any better.