Christoff abroad: Technology is luxurious, but reassuring

By: Katie Christoff – Asst. A&E Editor

Editor’s Note: Katie Christoff is a junior journalism major spending her fall semester in Maynooth, Ireland, sharing her growing cognizance and her adventures.

Our generation hears it all the time: we’re too dependent on technology. I’m not about to give the same old lecture – because I’m a firm believer that social media is an amazing invention – but I’m starting to understand the reasoning behind this common criticism.

I will still never willingly give up my technology, but I have begun to realize just how much of a role it used to play in my everyday life while living in a foreign country where I can’t use my smart phone unless it’s connected to Wi-Fi.

I recently ventured outside of Ireland on a 10-day backpacking trip with two friends while our university provided a “study break.” Since international students don’t have much to study yet, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to take advantage of our close proximity to the many popular European destinations. Unfortunately, it also meant leaving the comfort of campus, where Wi-Fi is a guarantee. The three of us made a pact to stick together after realizing that we had no other way to communicate with each other.

This is a situation that takes much more extensive planning than we initially realized. We were traveling to five
different cities – Paris, Milan, Rome, Barcelona and London – only one of which uses English as the native language. We certainly didn’t have the budget to take taxis from the airport to our hostel, so we had to determine an alternate route before arriving in each city, in case the airport didn’t have Wi-Fi or no one was able to help point us in the right direction because of the language barrier.

Most of these major cities had excellent and cheap public transportation, but once we got to each city, we had to figure out how to get to the hostel from wherever our bus/train/shuttle from the airport dropped us off – usually the city center. That’s what smart phone maps are for, right? Well, not without Wi-Fi.

These situations forced us to get extremely creative, and screenshots became our new best friend. The night before we arrived in a new destination, we conducted research on how to get from point A to point B to point C, and how much each of these routes would cost us. We took screenshots of everything we researched – modes of transportation, airport information, addresses and maps. This is a great example of one thing technology makes incredibly easy and efficient for us.

Each day when we were exploring a new city, we couldn’t use our smart phones do any research about where to go, what to do or where to eat. We used them to take pictures, but had to wait until hours later when we were back at the hostel and connected to Wi-Fi to Instagram them. It was truly devastating.

I say that last bit with sarcasm, but toward the end of our trip, a series of unfortunate events unfolded in Barcelona involving fake pigeon poop, an overly helpful Spanish-speaking couple with baby wipes, and my phone being pickpocketed. So there I was in a foreign country with no form of communication left – a much bigger problem than not
having access to social media.

This situation required me to get creative once again, so I resorted to emailing my parents to ask them to cancel my cell phone service, inform them that I was still alive, etc. The keyboard of the computer I was using at the hostel was in Catalan. I spent 20 minutes trying to find the “@” sign.

Our last stop was London, an English speaking country. This should be easy, right? Well we had other friends traveling to London that weekend and wanted to meet them for dinner, but they asked us to find a restaurant they designated once we were exploring the city. No Wi-Fi, no maps and no way to tell them we were lost.

This resulted in our most creative moment yet – we found an Apple store and my friend used one of the display docks to re-charge her dying phone as she looked up a map and took as many screenshots as possible. Thankfully, we were not asked to leave by angry employees and actually found the restaurant through this clever ruse.

Hopefully these tales prove my point – we use technology far more than we realize. I won’t condemn our generation’s (excessive?) use, because my experiences abroad have shown me how fortunate we are to have access to such amazing technology.

Learning to communicate without reliable access to technology – and later, to spend a week without a smart phone at all – has been an extremely valuable learning experience. Modern technology is absolutely amazing, and I look forward to the day when I won’t have to hope for free Wi-Fi everywhere I go. However, I have also learned that if you don’t have access to technology 24/7, it’s not the end of the world.

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