Otwo Attempts… Living in the Dark Ages


It may have been acceptable in the eighties but it’s not now. Emer Sugrue attempts to give up modern technology.

When Otwo asked me to give up technology for a day, I told them no, and then I posted it on Facebook. However, after much negotiation, tears and eventually prying my iPhone from my still tweeting fingers, I was off on my technology-free adventure.

My instructions were to give up technology but I decided I needed clearer rules that that. What counts as technology? Was I allowed have the lights on? Is the printing press considered too high tech? Inspired by the New Year’s release of cabinet papers, like any good time traveller I settled on a cut off point of thirty years. Were they even that technology-free in 1982? They had televisions, phones and even video games, limited as they were to shooting circles with a triangle. When it comes to practicality though, I was in a much worse situation than my eighties counterpart. People in the eighties had landlines, but I don’t; mobile phones are so ubiquitous that landlords don’t bother to install them anymore. Then again, a student in the 1980s wouldn’t have had a phone either so it’s just as well. Similarly with Ataris, VCRs, walkmans or other eighties technological breakthroughs; while they existed at the time, few people had them and I certainly don’t. I don’t even own a radio. My attempt was also limited by the technology used in my flat – students in Ireland were unlikely to own a fridge but I don’t think my flatmates would have taken kindly to me plugging it out. As for TV, RTÉ existed in 1982 but frankly, I’d rather watch the fridge.

Stripped down to the basics, I began my day. I was quite looking forward to it. How hard could it be? I had lived in the eighties before. Briefly. Once I got over the initial shock of not being able to communicate every inane thought I had the second it occurred to me, I began to miss the truly useful aspects of modern technology. I went for a run but didn’t get far. Normally, I have an app with a voice telling me every few minutes how well I’m doing – just hours without constant electronic reassurance, and my life was falling apart.

I decided to go to town but I couldn’t check the bus timetable. In preparation for my technology-free boredom, I had arranged to meet a friend the day before. One of the major things we’ve lost as a society is the ability to plan. Normally when I’m going to meet a friend, I make a vague arrangement some days before, decide on a time that morning and then shortly before tell them I’m running late, all through text. Back in the day if you made a plan but something had come up in the mean time, there was absolutely no way to let them know. You either had to go anyway, or just leave them waiting. To check the bus times I had to walk to the bus stop and write down the times. On paper. Like a peasant.

I don’t usually wear a wristwatch since I have my twenty-first century pocket watch – a phone – so I misjudged the timing and arrived at the meeting place a bit late. My friend was nowhere to be seen, but I had no way of knowing whether he was also running late or had arrived, waited a few minutes, and then left. I had no choice but to sit down on some convenient steps and wait. And wait. I waited hours, years. Or maybe ten minutes, I didn’t have a watch. I couldn’t contact him, he had a phone but I didn’t have the number except in my phone. Even if I had, I would have absolutely no idea where I would find a payphone, or even how to use one. I’ve had a mobile phone for as long as I’ve had anyone to call. The worst part was I had nothing to do; nothing to play with, nothing to listen to. It was a long time since I’d heard the unadulterated sounds of the outdoors; I nearly always have my iPod on when going anywhere. Even when I’m not listening to music I have my headphones on so charity collectors, homeless people or random weirdos don’t start chatting to me. I was in great danger of becoming the latter that day.

Eventually my friend arrived and noises of the outside world aside, I was able to enjoy a fairly normal day drinking coffee and wandering around the shops. One bit of luck for the day was that I was able to use an ATM – cash machines arrived in Ireland in 1980 so I was saved the ignominy of having to go into the bank and interact with people. I headed home and after satisfying myself that whether past or present, RTÉ is rubbish, I spent the evening reading.

For a normal if slightly duller day, going technology-free wasn’t too bad. If it had been college time it wouldn’t have been possible at all. Back in the eighties we would have had to hand-write everything rather than just our exams, with our keyboard-withered claws. We would have had to go outside to discover new information, possibly even reading it on something that wasn’t backlit. We would have had to keep up with our friends by actually talking to them instead of reading their status updates and contributing “lol”.

Truly, this is a golden age.