The smartphone and the safari – the issue of internet and cellphone connectivity in the wilderness
by Gareth Hardres-Williams, 25 June 2017
A Mammoth Safaris safari to Africa – the ultimate escape to wilderness. A journey to get away from the hustle and bustle, an opportunity to break routines and do things differently for a while. Where better a place then to switch off the phone, disconnect the computer and just let the world of work and everyday life slip away? With our constant connectedness in this age of the smart phone, and with our almost over-reliance on some kind of data driven connection, I was posed with the question of whether a time without that connectivity is as relaxing a tonic as we might think? Or have we become so dependent on being connected, that a loss of this connectivity is more of stressful than not checking that email or sending that text?
That look you get when someone threatens to take your cellphone away…
On a recent trip to Botswana I was faced with an interesting conundrum, one that I had experienced before, but never quite so acutely as I did this time. I was thrust into bush camps and wilderness areas where there was ostensibly no cellphone reception and no internet connectivity at all. I was on a work trip whilst out there and had some responsibilities to address, but it was honestly less for this reason that the absence of connection caused stress. I found (and later research would show this to be common) that it was not being in touch with my family and the outside world that troubled me. Even though I am an enormous fan of wilderness, being disconnected was not as relaxing as I had thought it would be. Obviously I knew that the camp management could always make a plan to help me contact home should the need arise, so there was no real cause for anxiety, but that absence of everyday ease of connectivity bothered me more than I care to admit.
Can you hear me now? Would you prefer to enjoy this view whilst listening to someone talking to their cat in New York?
The lack of cellphone reception is not something the camps and lodges can do much about to resolve, save erecting enormous towers and receivers – their reluctance to do this is a good thing. The ability to receive and make calls whilst watching a leopard carefully stalk an impala is most certainly not a necessity.
A private romantic dinner for two and that insurance salesperson calls from Baltimore
With contemporary satellite technology however, connectivity to the internet and subsequently a connection to one’s home and family is a possibility for all camps, using unobtrusive and easily camouflaged infrastructure to achieve this. Some camps and lodges have embraced this technology and connectivity, offering Wi-Fi in all the rooms, whilst others have chosen not to. It got me thinking about the mindset of the contemporary traveler, wondering if an absence of connectivity really does represent an opportunity to ‘reconnect” as one major player in the Botswana safari space suggests. Or is the absence of connectivity more of a stress inducing happenstance than a stress relieving one?
To connect or not to connect? This question could lead to some butting of heads!
It appears that I am not alone in this appearance of anxiety associated with the absence of connectivity, so much so that a term has even been proposed to explain this anxious state. Nomophobia (derived from the abbreviated “no mobile phone phopia”), or the anxious state that arises when mobile phone users lose access to their phone, was coined in 2008 in response to a study by a UK-based research organization, YouGov. The study found that about half of all respondents suffer from this phobia and more than half of these suffers gave being unable to contact friends and family as the main source of this anxiety. The self same study compared the feelings associated with nomophobia to being akin to “wedding day jitters” or as generating the same emotional state one might experience with a visit to the dentist. Not exactly the kind of reconnecting “relax in your plunge pool, enjoy the view” feelings the disconnected camps would have been hoping for.
There are ways and means of getting reception…
Subsequent studies have concluded that the ability to communicate through a mobile phone gives peace of mind and security and through our engagement with many of our guests, we realise this more and more.
Obviously there is much to be said for not having to listen to a stock broker trade equities over breakfast – drowning out all sounds and sense of wilderness, or have the family’s faces lost in small screens whilst elephants frolic in the river below. The discreet supply of connectivity to the privacy of a guests room, where you are left with the choice of whether or not to disconnect / reconnect / unplug / plug in is our idea of a win win.
“Its the office sir, they need you back immediately…”
Tell us what you think…
What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you go on safari to get away and disconnect, or is still being able to connect as and when you chose to, a way of allowing yourself to relax fully? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section and be sure to talk to us about the issue before you travel. Should you be a bit of a nomophobe yourself – fear not, we can always make a plan to keep you connected.
A footnote: Wilderness is by definition remote and it is safe to assume that in many of the places to where we venture, regular and reliable access to telephone and internet is unpredictable at best. That said, we have an intimate understanding of all our destinations and can provide an accurate assessment of the state of connectivity in various countries and at particular camps. If connectivity is critical to your journey, please let us know and we will structure your itinerary accordingly to ensure that, as much as is humanly possible, you are never out of touch. Conversely, should you wish to escape connection, we know just where to send you too.
For more information on where to travel with or without your phone, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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