Category Archives: quiet zone

When a man lets things go so far

I was recently reminded of this quote from Flan O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.

“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles…when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.”

Duchamp clearly went well beyond half way.

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Technology in the quiet zone

One of the things I need to figure out is what technology I will use to communicate while I am cycling across Africa. Don’t get me wrong. It is not as if I want to stay as wired as we have all become in the last couple of decades. I don’t. It is more a question of ‘what do I need to stay minimally connected’ so that when I need to communicate it is there and when I don’t it leaves me alone.

When I was 20, in the early 70s, I did a year at the University of Nice in the South of France. During that year, I had absolutely no expectation that I would talk to anybody I couldn’t see or touch. We wrote letters. Put them in envelopes. Put stamps on them. And put them in letter boxes. Odd. Phones were expensive, not something 8 year olds get for their birthday. In fact, the only time I phoned home during that year was when we were cycling in the hills behind Nice and found a phone box with a broken phone it. I think the coin mechanism was jammed. You could phone anywhere in the world for nothing. (You may well ask what we were doing testing phones in the hills behind Nice. Nothing drug induced or paranormal I’m afraid. We had simply received a tip that it existed so had rushed off to see if it still worked – or was still broken.) Unfortunately when we tried it again the next week it had been fixed.

But traveling through Africa is a different challenge. There is that tension between voluntarily entering the ‘quiet zone’ and the need to stay connected. Some times the quiet zone will be enforced, but not always. So I need to figure out what will be best. Do I take laptop? Or just a smart phone? Or neither? Do I just take a ‘bog standard, doesn’t matter if I lose it’ phone. Do I buy local SIM cards or get a ‘covers all’ data and roaming package? Or do I just take a pencil and a notebook and use Internet cafes when and where I find them? Any type of phone, laptop or netbook will need to be charged. That means more technology and more time babysitting it.

Back in the 70s I would not be asking myself any of these questions. At the end of the 70s I lived in Northern Nigeria for two years. I didn’t talk to my parents – or anybody else outside of Nigeria – for those two years. I didn’t feel deprived or lost. I was in the quiet zone and that was fine.

I thought this was just about riding a bike.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania