“Do you have WiFi?” It may just be the most asked question by travellers in this day and age.
No matter what far-flung corner of the globe we end up in, we can almost always find an internet connection.
And for many of us, having access to the internet has become an absolute necessity.
The benefits of having a wealth of information available at the click of finger are tremendous. I can sit in a café in Guilin, China and research the best places to stay in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, without having to find a guidebook or talk to anyone who has been there.
The advantages of being able to keep in contact with my friends and family all over the world, no matter where they are, is truly amazing.
But what are the consequences of always being connected?
Almost everyone who leaves his or her house does so with at least one device to allow them to stay connected, whether it is a laptop, a smart phone or a tablet.
The idea of travelling without one has become inconceivable. How else will we find out what our friends are doing back home, or whether our favourite sports team is winning or not?
What other methods will we find to pass the time when we the weather is bad or we are too tired from sightseeing? These days the art of disconnecting with the internet and reconnecting with the world around us is becoming harder and harder to achieve.
Everywhere you look, people are staring at screens. On buses and trains, in bars and restaurants, in the presence of others, or on our own, we all have our eyes and hands glued to a piece of technology.
Every meal we eat and every activity we do is documented with a snapshot. Conversations exist simultaneously with the person we are actually talking to, and our phones.
Almost no experience can occur without thinking of a way to announce it to our friends on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
We have created online, idealistic images of our lives to portray in a virtual world – profile pictures with filters, selfies with groups of friends or in exotic locations, always smiling and having fun. Is this a true representation of who we are?
Where once a hostel common room was a place to meet new friends, now they have become a place to keep in contact with old friends.
If the Wifi signal drops out you can see the frustration mount on the faces of people everywhere. Sometimes the first instance of a person reaching out to speak with you is to ask whether your internet is working.
By being constantly connected, we are separating ourselves from reality.
The way we explore this world has changed dramatically in the last decade. If a restaurant isn’t on Trip Advisor, we won’t eat at it. If a hotel isn’t in the Lonely Planet or on WikiTravel, we won’t stay there.
If we meet someone who we form a friendship with, but they don’t use social media, chances are we will never speak to them again once our goodbyes have been said. The world has become a lot smaller, but not just in a positive way.
We are losing our ability to interact, to engage and to bond with the people we meet.
Forming a relationship with someone doesn’t develop from spending time with each other, but instead it is created based on whether you swipe left or right.
Friends aren’t measured by who you talk to and hang out with, but by the number of followers we have.
Being active in social media has led to becoming more anti-social in the real world.
Nothing is official unless it is, ‘Facebook official’.
What a vain and meaningless life being constantly connected has become.
As someone who now makes a living from working online, I am just as guilty of these crimes as anyone else. I can be in the most sublime place on earth, and my mind often drifts to whether I have an important email waiting for me in my inbox.
I have caught myself checking social media on boat cruises through impeccable karst landscapes. Tomorrow I will find myself in some beautiful part of the world, but the moment I end up somewhere with a Wifi signal, I will probably log on to check if I have missed an important message in the three hours since I last checked.
I am part of the problem.
The sacrifices of free wifi can be measured in what we have lost as a society. A lot has been gained in terms of knowledge, and our lives have become easier, but at what cost?