Calling that thing in your pocket a phone is like calling a charging tiger a moving patch of colour: a valid description, but you’re missing vital factors which will severely affect your quality of life. Over the last month many people moved back home for a few days of family time before reconnecting to their real lives in the new year, and for international travel the “reconnection” is quite literal. Using your mobile in another country makes your phone bill look like your credit card number, but when before we used to leave the useless bricks behind, now we just turn off the phone functions. Because even without the talky parts, modern phones are seriously smart.
The easiest way to recognise such international gadgets is the “tricorder effect”. The X Prize foundation are offering ten million dollars to anyone who can build a hand portable scanner, but mobile phones have already done this for Wi-Fi. The visitor sweeps every new location with their beeping wafer, looking for the treasure that is an open Wi-Fi connection and sucking down as much mail as they can while in range. In the wilds of rural Ireland I found a pub full of wizened old farmers, songs about how things were better before the Fort of Tara fell, and a solid four-sector connection to use while sinking pints. It was a better ancient-meets-advanced adventure than an episode of Doctor Who.
Without the burden of always-on connection, it’s like even your phone is in the holiday spirit. You can play games without any risk of the silly thing ringing and ruining your mood. Sure, you’ve picked up a cheap dumbphone to tide you over the holidays (the great Nokia boom of the 90s ensures there will be £10 handsets floating around the back of friends’ closets until the sun explodes), but nobody can remember its new number. The only time people can contact you is when you deign to allow them – it’s like being an A-list celeb only without the paparazzi.
After a few blissful ringing-free days it’s time to return home. The instant any international flight touches down, more technology powers up than during the switching on of the Death Star. You’re once more ready to contact anyone in the world, including the people you just left, and you can talk to them without having to travel halfway round the world to do so.
So, you know, that “phone” part is pretty amazing too.