It was around 1AM and I thought: fuck it, I’m going to Ireland. I desperately needed a change of scenery, a break from the monotony of everyday life – but I didn’t want to go anywhere too hot or touristy. Ireland seemed like the perfect fit, therefore: Its climate is pretty similar to the UK’s and, popular though Dublin and Belfast are, they’re not exactly Paris or Rome.
So I booked my tickets in the early hours of a day in mid-June. Then, in the first week of July, I boarded a plane to Dublin. The flight was ridiculously quick, and before I knew it I was getting off the airport bus at O’Connell Street, named after the 19th century nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell.
I checked into my hostel, Abbey Court, which was right by the River Liffey, then set about exploring the city. It felt to me like a cross between Amsterdam and London, and I used my smartphone to take pictures – a lot of pictures! I won’t bore you with all of them, but here is the very first one I took, which I think nicely sums up the Amsterdam vibes:
With my phone, I was able as well to look up where things were in the city – so, I was able to find the statues of Molly Malone, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, as well as lovely vegan restaurants such as ‘Cornucopia’ and ‘Veginity’. Of course, I could probably have found the statues using a traditional (i.e. physical) map, and I could have just asked people about nearby vegetarian places.
But, at the end of the day, my phone proved very useful in making my way around this foreign city, which strangely also felt familiar. Familiar, because I’d read so much about Dublin in literature, most notably James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I had to study during my undergraduate degree. I got a thrill, therefore, visiting the James Joyce Tower and Museum, where Ulysses actually begins! One of the many things I love about Dublin is how proudly literary it is – as it should be!
With my phone camera, and thanks to my mobile data, I was able to take pictures and videos as I went around Dublin and share them with friends back home. So, when I saw a man in a penguin mask playing the guitar in St Stephen’s Green (a lush park in the south of Dublin city centre), I simply had to record this moment for posterity.
Yet, just as my smartphone added to my holiday, it also detracted from it. Instead of going out on my first night, I stayed in and looked at my phone. The second night I did actually drink with some fellow tourists in the hostel bar, but even so, I was distracted by the bright glare of my phone screen.
Then, on my final morning in Dublin, something happened. As I took my bundle of clothes into the shower room, my phone slipped out of my trouser pocket and landed on the tiled floor with a thud.
There were no new cracks or anything as dramatic as that. The screen looked fine – except, it wouldn’t switch on.
Now then, I’ve been known to get in a bit of a temper tantrum about technology not working properly, so you might have expected me to react in the same way to my phone breaking. In fact, however, I was quite calm.
“Oh,” I thought. “My phone appears to have stopped working.” I realised what an inconvenience this would be, especially whilst on holiday – after all, my travel tickets were on there! But in a way, I felt relieved, as if a weight had been taken off my back. I even wondered if, subconsciously, I had intended to break it.
There was nothing to be done about it: the screen refused to return to life. Nevertheless, I continued on with my plans for the day: I showered, breakfasted and checked out, making sure beforehand to print out my travel tickets. Bags packed and phone still dead, I walked to the bus station, which was only about ten minutes away.
I boarded my Belfast-bound bus and, with no phone to distract me, intended to read, but I was too tired, so I slept for most of the journey. Blissfully, in these pre-Brexit times, crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was completely uneventful.
I arrived in Belfast at around midday, and the contrast to elegant Dublin couldn’t be any starker: I was in a big, busy, ugly city (sorry Belfast). What’s more, I had no idea how to get to my hostel!
Well, not no idea. I had thankfully looked up my Belfast hostel’s location on Google Maps that morning, so I knew that it was in the south of the city, near the university. But without my phone maps at hand, I couldn’t simply type in the location and set off. Instead, I had to turn to traditional maps and – god forbid – even ask real people for directions!
Somehow, by a minor miracle, I made it to my hostel. It was worth the trek: Vagabonds Belfast is a great, chill hostel in a graceful old building. Without my phone, I was forced to actually be sociable – and in the process, I made some really cool (albeit transient) friends!
Three of us went on a free walking tour together, and in the evening a big group of us gathered for drinks at the hostel. It was a lot of fun, and I even let myself be persuaded into going out – to Filthy McNasty’s, of all places! (Yes, that’s really the name of a pub/club in Belfast.) It was actually a great night, and I spent all of it in the moment, instead of on my phone.
Of course, there were disadvantages to not having a phone, too. For one, I couldn’t set alarms or even tell the time! (If you take anything from this blogpost, it should be this: Always bring with you a watch, because you never know when your phone might die!)
On my first and indeed only full day in Northern Ireland, I went on a Game of Thrones-themed coach trip around the north coast. This was expensive but fun, and the only thing I regretted was my lack of a phone, because there were so many amazing sights that I would have loved to snap.
But, on the other hand, not having a phone or a camera meant that I had no other option than to really look, in order to imprint what I was looking at into my mind. Something as awe-inspiring as the Giant’s Causeway deserves not only to be looked at and photographed, but to be experienced. When you stop viewing the world through the lens of your phone camera, you actually see the world.
On the morning of my final day in Ireland, I checked out of the hostel and had coffee with a new friend of mine. I then made my way to Donegall Square West (right by the grand City Hall), where I met the famous Cyril of the Botanics. In the little time that I’d been in Belfast, I’d grown fond of this city too. Like Glasgow, it’s not immediately beautiful, but once you get to know it you can’t help but like it – especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan! The city is littered with references to the show, and why shouldn’t it be – the show’s certainly been a boon for the Northern Irish tourism industry.
As excited as I was for the ferry ride back to Scotland, I was sad that my Irish travels had reached their conclusion. I knew I’d be back before long, however.
On the ferry, with no phone or internet at my disposal, and with my only book finished, I took up pen and paper and just started writing about my trip. I may or may not publish what I wrote during that seven-hour journey home, I’ve not yet made up my mind. Even if I never share them with anyone, writing those 24 pages of touristic reflections was extremely enjoyable and cathartic, and I probably wouldn’t have written them if I hadn’t broken my phone.
So, am I glad that my phone broke? Jein, is the answer: ja und nein. I don’t know which experience was better: Travelling with a phone, like in the Republic, or travelling without one, like in Northern Ireland. Obviously the best option would be a healthy compromise, where I use my smart phone to look up interesting things but also know when to switch it off.
Sensible thinking is different to sensible action, however. I know that if/when I get a smartphone again, I’ll soon go back to being addicted to all the apps and notifications… So, for the meantime, I’m using a very basic Nokia phone, which allows me to make calls, send texts, set alarms, and not much else. There are many advantages to this, as well as many disadvantages. I probably will succumb eventually to the lure of the smartphone, but at the moment I’m enjoying having a break from it all. (Even though, ironically, I’m now using my laptop more, thereby substituting one screen for an even bigger one. But at least I can’t carry my laptop around in my pocket!)
If you also feel a bit smartphone-obsessed and this is making you unhappy, stressed or whatever, don’t feel like you also need to book a trip to Dublin in order to ‘accidentally’ break your phone. My tip is to switch off your phone for certain periods of time, perhaps even whole days – you could keep it locked away somewhere out of sight, for instance. I’ve done this before on family holidays and it really helped me to unwind.
Or, if you don’t have enough self-discipline for this, just go and see a film at the cinema. Since only Jeremy Hunts check their phones during a movie *in the cinema*, you’ll have no other choice than to sit there, watch a film in the dark, and forget about the bright lights of Facebook, Twitter and all the other self-imposed digital prisons of our age.
I’m not an iconoclast, I’m not calling for the smashing of all smartphones. All I’m advocating is that, every now and then, we put down our phones, go outside and talk with real people, face-to-face. That obviously won’t fix all the world’s problems; but maybe, just maybe, in these polarised times, it’ll be a start.
(Thanks for reading.)
RECOMMENDED FILM OF THE WEEK: Never Look Away (Werk ohne Autor): Ein sehr bewegender, überraschend lustiger und ganz schöner Film über die Macht der Kunst und der Liebe. 5/5.