Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Edinburgh doesn’t like Wi-Fi

Sixteen years ago, I travelled through the United Kingdom for two weeks with my youngest son, Noam. This summer, I travelled with my elder son, Edan, for close to three weeks throughout Scotland. Many things were different in the space of 16 years, but perhaps the greatest difference of all was the ready presence of Wi-Fi.

Now I know that some of you may romanticize the days when there was no such thing as “instant communication” no matter where you were in the world. Backpacking in Europe in the 70’s, letting loved ones know that you will be in a certain city at some time in the future and when you arrive there you head for the “post restante” section of the local post office to find a letter waiting for you. Yes, that thing made out of paper with the musty smell. This way you managed to  communicate with back home about once a month. Of course, by the time the letters were read, the events described belonged more to “history” than to “current events”.

But now you can exchange countless emails per day, text chat or even Skype with video. And all this on something as small as a smartphone or iPod. Not to mention taking pictures with your smartphone or iPod and immediately uploading them to your facebook profile for all to see. And all this for free. Is this a good thing? I think so, but then you may consider me an Internet junkie.

When leaving for Scotland, I wondered how much Wi-Fi access we would have. I soon discovered that almost all Bed and Breakfasts have Wi-Fi. Some worked better than others, but you were always assured of some sort of connection. We also discovered that Wi-Fi was available in many coffee and lunch spots along the way, even in the local coffee shop of a small town in a remote section of the Cairngorms National Park. Edan and I got into a routine whenever we “landed” for a coffee or lunch break: order coffee/food, bathroom, and out came his smartphone and my iPod and it was time to check mail and upload that last picture.

And then we got to Edinburgh, the tourist hub of Scotland. A magical city, with plenty to see, not to mention the unique pubs. We spent the last two days of our trip there.

The first day we settled into a pub for a late lunch after walking through a surprisingly warm day (the sun was actually out most of the time).
“Do you have Wi-Fi, we asked?”
“No, sorry. Not yet. We will soon.”
So, there we were, waiting for our food and sipping a pint, while fidgeting, our fingers tapping nervously on the table, not able to text, chat, or upload.
Now, don’t get me wrong - we are not that obsessed. We can get through one meal without wi-fi access. We simply put this down to our wandering in by chance to a pub that didn’t have wi-fi - a surprise occurrence after finding it in the most remote locations.
But it was later in the day, after a short rest at the B&B, when we made for another pub to watch the EuroCup that we began to suspect a pattern.
“Do you have Wi-Fi?”
“No, sorry. Not yet. We will soon.”
The fidgeting increased, but once the football game started, it eased up.

We decided the next day that we wouldn’t order a pint until we found a pub with wi-fi. Well, none was to be found. “No, sorry. Not yet, we will soon.” We did find a sort of underground connection at the Caffe Nero on the Royal Mile. It was called something like “Free Scotland”. I wasn’t sure whether this meant the wi-fi connection was free, or whether it was a part of an intricate plan to reclaim Scotland’s independence.
“Hey, they have an Internet connection here,” I announced happily to Edan.
“Shhh...” came from a nearby table, as its inhabitant looked around nervously. I understood then that there were some things that you didn’t talk about in public - at least not in the streets of Edinburgh. Was this a part of a cartel? Were the drinking and eating places of Edinburgh joining together to ensure that they didn’t need to offer wi-fi, and wouldn’t need to worry that the competition did?

Or is there a message here? A reason why a city like Edinburgh would shun offering Wi-Fi when it was present almost everywhere else - other than the evident cost of such free offerings? Did it have something to do with the flavour of the city? Is Edinburgh a modern day Brigadoon, wanting to let time flow by and remain changeless?

Somehow I think that if I visit Edinburgh in another 16 years time,  they still won’t have wi-fi.
“No, sorry. Not yet. We will soon.”


  1. I have to say that I don't think pubs should have Wi-Fi. I left Scotland over twenty years ago when pubs where the real social centres where you met your friends and talked. I hope they still are! Can you imagine walking into a silent pub where everyone is sitting with their heads down, texting?
    Andrew Wilson

    1. I get your point. I guess it would be different for us if we actually lived in Edinburg and went to the pub to relax and talk with friends after a long day at work, when we have been "connected" most of the day. When I go to Molly Blooms in Tel Aviv, I rarely feel the need to connect online,although there is wi-fi there.
      But, in this case, it was one of our few chances to connect back home, etc.