I dropped off the social media radar for four days recently. I doubt anyone noticed – everyone’s timelines and feeds are so busy I’d have to be Caitlin Moran or the Pope for anyone to miss my tweets, posts or Snaps.
The fam and I headed north for a short break on the far north west coast of mainland Scotland, Red Point to be exact. I’d never heard of it until just after New Year when HimIndoors and I watched the film What We Did On Our Holiday starring Billy Connelly and David Tennant. It was written by the Outnumbered team and follows the family north to visit David Tennant’s character’s father for his 70th birthday party. The story is hilarious and poignant in equal measure but what stole the show for me was the beach used for a lot of the shoot. Golden sand, turquoise sea, an island on the horizon and blue skies made the perfect backdrop.
A quick look on the web revealed it was Red Point Beach and the first thing Google threw up for Red Point was a log cabin for rent, practically a stone’s throw from the sand. A quick email to owner Ian Warren and it was booked for the start of the school holidays. Another email revealed there was no wifi and a search on the web showed no signal in the area from 02 or 3. Hurrah, said I – a complete break from everything to do with work, including Twitter and Facebook. We decided to let the kids find out for themselves. We knew the first day would be hell then they’d get used to it.
On the way north it all dawned on MiniMe when her reception disappeared between Perth and Inverness but the sulk didn’t last long. The cabin was cute with unspoilt views over to Raasay and Skye.
Inside was a home from home but once the car was unpacked we all piled down the beach. It was picture perfect, often deserted and we visited it at least once a day.
The next day we discovered there was a second beach just around the headland. Day three was the only complete day of rain. I went out for a walk myself – I’ve always said skin is waterproof and the rain was warm anyway. I started on the first beach, the headed cross country to the second beach. The tide was out this time and I realised that around the corner was a third beach.
Between the beaches, the pony trekking next door, the shops in Gairloch and the walks and the ever-changing landscape out the windows there was plenty for the kids to do and at night we watched DVDs and played copious amounts of Uno and Cluedo.
There were only two reasons we really missed the connectivity.
Conversations tend to die out when you don’t have Google or a complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to hand for reference.
The other, and I may sound sad, was the recycling. We recycle a lot as a family and South Lanarkshire Council recycles more materials than most. The cabin had a black bin and a blue bin but I couldn’t assume that they were used for the same things as our black and blue bins. Then, if the blue bin was for recycling, what could I put in it. And what days were they collected. I’d have loved to have seen the vehicle coping on the single track road too. See, I’m sad.
No internet meant I couldn’t look up Highland Council’s website so in the end everything went into one black bin bag and slung in the black bin.
Bu that got me wondering how Highland Council, with so many holiday homes, is ever going to meet its recycling targets. Even locals with their slow broadband would struggle to use the things the rest of us take for granted.
But it’s not just Highland Council. My parents live in rural South Lanarkshire and struggle with the BBC iPlayer with their 3Mb broadband. If you and your neighbours live a bit away from the exchange I doubt you’d all be able to stream Netflix at the same time.
And there’s the rub. Digital exclusion is rife in Scotland, because you can’t afford to be connected, you don’t have the skills to use digital safely and effectively or you just don’t have the infrastructure to cope. DotEveryone has produced this telling digital exclusion heatmap and some of the information contained in it is worrying. 0% (and that’s not a lot!) of homes in the Highland area have 4G coverage by all providers and 37% of homes have broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps and 17% of residents have never been online. Ditto on the 4G for Dumfries and Galloway who have a quarter of homes with broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps and 20.6% of residents have never been online. Meanwhile in Glasgow only 5% of homes have broadband speeds of less than 10Mbps, only 10.3% don’t get 4G from all providers yet 16.6% pf residents have never been online.
It’s not like BT and the other communications companies can’t afford to sort this out – they make profits every year after all. Rural communities shouldn’t have to sort this out for themselves – us townies got it handed to us on a plate but we just want it bigger, faster, stronger and to hell with the rest of you! But there’s still a worrying amount of people around us who have never been online
The Internet is the fourth utility. This has been discussed since 2006 – go and read Inequality.com for yourself.
The very people who most need online services are the ones who are being excluded. Think of the remote elderly who could use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. Families in poverty could be taking advantage of the cheaper online prices. There’s a wealth of online courses available to those who maybe can’t move away to the city to go to university and those people far from a supermarket could be taking advantage of home delivery.
The telecomms companies claim they are addressing the problem but the people living in rural areas tell a different story. Access to the internet should be equal for all and basic digital skills should be just as essential as the three Rs.
I have to admit it was great to be cut off from the world for a week. I didn’t miss the ever changing political landscape and Pokemon Go was a bit of an enigma for 24 hours till I caught up – @JenniferMJones soon had me up to speed.
If you work in work in comms and particularly social media I can’t think of a better place than Red Point to get away from it all. Running a business or living there full time would be a challenge. In the words of Joni Mitchell ‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’.
If you fancy renting the Cabin at Red Point you can check out the website and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
But Ian, please don’t install any broadband – let’s keep it off grid.