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Coveted vacation "disconnect" was elusive

When last we met our hero, she was heading to the tiny island nation of The Maldives, hovering just north of the equator in the Indian Ocean. By all reports and expectations, she would be off the grid. No Internet, no cell coverage. Sixteen days of blissful disconnection.

Or maybe not. After 36 hours in transit, we arrived at the tiny Male International Airport, made our way through customs and out into the humid night air. Greeting us on the other side of the arrivals gate: the cybercafé (see picture). Maybe that’s to be expected in this day and age. Surely once we’d boarded the boat that would be our home for the next two weeks, we’d be fully out of touch.

Oh, but not so fast. The boat’s crew was carrying cell phones. Certainly, they’d lose their signal as soon as we were out of site of the main island’s communications towers (see photo). Male, the capital city, may be small – no bigger than a two-mile by one-mile sand bar, really – but it is an international destination, so some mobile communications is to be expected there. When we set sail, then we’ll really be off the grid.

Not so fast

Imagine my surprise when our boat sidled up to a tiny island and there, standing tall among the palm trees, was a communications tower. I went below deck, retrieved my mobile and turned it on. Four bars. A stronger signal than I’d ever get on Sand Hill Road, among other Silicon Valley dead zones.
I traveled 11,000 miles to a pocket of the Earth that was barely Earth at all. And still, the modern world crept in. I took some solace in the certain knowledge that the roaming tariff Cingular would assess to any call from this part of the world, no matter how clear, would be enough to buy one of these little islands. I turned off my mobile and resumed my vacation.

A few days later, we went ashore for the final leg of our holiday, four days at an island resort. . . an island resort with a Wi-Fi blanket covering the 18-acre property. Yes, one could sit seaside, sip a tropical drink and instant message jealous friends at home. I (almost) resisted temptation.

At $25 for 24 hours of connectivity, the resort’s Internet fees were less than some New York City hotels and much cheaper than many of the “civilized” European business destinations I often travel to.

No escaping the grid

If the object of this far-away holiday was to get off the grid, I succeeded only because it is massively difficult to scuba and Skype simultaneously. Now back for not even one week, I'm thinking about where I might go next. But I suspect that no matter where I go, there will be a bit of the grid there, too.

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Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMO Letter, and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at

Shipley has covered the personal technology business since 1984, and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. She has worked as a writer and editor for a variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine, and Working Woman.

She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, she has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit:

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Hassan responded 8 years ago: #1

I thought getting off the grid was easy. Leave your phone home in your home country. I bet you don't want to do that. Believe me, some do that. If you have 24 hours a day off the grid, you have 36 hours if you are on a grid or two.

Must be grateful that in the Maldives we have options whether to be on or off the grid. We have the no news, no shoes concept.

No matter where you go, if you bring along your cell phone, you will be on the hook.

Nice story.

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