The Indonesian island of Bali will maintain digital silence on Nyepi, the Hindu New Year. It is not clear if home wi-fi connections will be shut down, but mobile internet will certainly be cut for 24 hours. Critical services like hospitals and airports will be supported, but the airport will be closed, as always. All things Balinese are shut on Nyepi, a day of calm contemplation of what is past, and what is yet to be. The mobile internet blackout may look like an imposition, since someone will pull the plug without a by-your-leave, but look again, and it sounds like blessed relief.
Once upon a time — about 15 years ago — pervasive, always-on internet was the Holy Grail, the key to a connected culture that promised to change the way we live, work, think and interact. It’s done all of that, in ways that were not anticipated. The internet was supposed to contain the sum of human knowledge, but whoever imagined that had no idea what humans are like. When the internet made the cellphone its preferred home, it meant that anyone could post or consume rubbish anywhere, at any time, in any mental state. The signal to noise ratio plummeted and the connected human race was delivered into the hands of pseudonymous, malevolent clowns.
If a New Year’s Day brings relief from this bleakness, it must be seized greedily. It would give humanity 24 hours to listen to the silence. For a global culture which no longer has the foggiest idea, it would be enlightening to listen to what happens between our ears, rather than to the latest anxieties of people we have never met, and are unlikely to. Bali must not selfishly enjoy its digitally silent New Year on its own. The idea is export-quality, as we say in Ludhiana.