Dom Joly: 'I can't live without my PlayStation'

From the moment his digital alarm clock wakes him to his midnight Facebook sessions, Dom Joly loves to indulge his passion for consumer electronics. But could this self-confessed gadget freak survive seven days without the internet, his mobile phone and the other tools of modern life? Photograph by Trevor Ray Hart.
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The Independent Tech

My name is Dom Joly and I'm (deep breath)... a gadgetaholic. There, I've said it. And since every journey starts with one small step, maybe there's hope. I've loved gadgets ever since I was a little boy. I distinctly remember some time in the mid-1970s visiting some friends of my elder sister outside Oxford. I didn't want to be there and made my views quite plain to my poor sibling. Things suddenly changed when we went inside. The man we were visiting was a Jordanian and, like many Arabs, had a love of technology. Sitting on a small table in front of his television was a curious little silver box with what looked like a light switch on it. It was a very primitive remote control. All you could do was change the channels – and there were only three available. This didn't deter me. I spent all afternoon flicking up and down through the channels. My sister was mortified, but the Jordanian didn't mind. He recognised a kinship deep within us – a love of shiny, sleek gadgetry.

Fast-forward to the present and my life, like most of our lives, is positively overflowing with gadgets – laptops, mobile phones, sat-navs, digital TV. I've just gone on to Facebook (or Crackbook as it should be called, it's so addictive) and my wife is complaining that I spend all day hunched over the laptop. I pretend that I'm working but I'm not really, I'm sort of cyber-grazing while my dogs go unwalked and my kids go unfed. This, therefore, is my life. So when I get a call from the people at the magazine you are holding asking me whether I'd be interested in writing an article about living for seven days without any gadgets invented in the past 25 years, I go all cold down the back of my spine (a bit like someone suddenly mentioning that you seem to drink an awful lot: it's suddenly out there and, although it's your worst nightmare, it also feels like a weird lifeline has been thrown to you).

So I say yes. My wife laughs. She'd love me to do this but she's sure that I won't last a day. I develop a steely resolve and announce that my week will begin at midnight this Sunday. For a whole week I shall forgo the use of my laptop, video-games console, digital TV, iPod, mobile phone and sat-nav. Here is my diary of that terrible week...


I'm 25 minutes away from switch off and I'm trying to get my electric house in order. I'm burning some photos on to a CD as I need to print them off and give them to my dad as a birthday present. I'm also saying goodbye to friends on Facebook that I have never met – I even record a short farewell video, what is wrong with me? Stacey, my wife, wanders in while I'm recording it and looks at me as '

though I'm mentally ill. I try to set up an automatic response on my email account to let people know that I'm "away" for the week. I don't manage it. I email my agent, my voiceover agent and my literary agent to let them know that they can only contact me on my landline – they all seem remarkably unconcerned. I also panic as I realise that I will not be able to play any music for the whole week as I got rid of my CD players years ago and all of my music is on my laptop and my iPod. There is no way round this so I play Ray LaMontagne's beautiful "Be Here Now", which is probably my last bit of happiness for a week.


I switch off my laptop for the first time in two years, put her (yes, she's a lady) into her cover and then into a drawer. I also turn off my mobile and place it on top of the laptop, next to my iPod. I close the drawer. I am alone.



I go to bed and realise my radio is digital. I always go to sleep with Radio 4 or 5 on – it keeps the voices in my head away. Tonight, all is quiet and I don't sleep well at all.

10.05am I've been up since 6am and I've already been to the gym for the first time in three years. Back home, I would normally be sat in front of my laptop but I can't, it's not there. I empty the dishwasher. Oh God, what's happening to me?


I've driven to the local recycling dump with a whole lot of stuff that's been sitting outside since we were flooded in August. I get lost as I can't use my sat-nav. I ask a local who thinks I'm taking the piss because he can see my Tom-Tom on the windscreen. A trip that should have taken half an hour takes two hours. Back home, I start rearranging the furniture upstairs. When I finish, I clean the kitchen. I'm either going to die of exhaustion or become the world's best husband. Stacey gazes at me adoringly.

I have a nagging feeling that there is an important email sitting in my inbox asking me to star in a Hollywood blockbuster alongside Angelina Jolie, offer will end Friday. I take the dogs for a walk. Be strong.


I've had a golf lesson, put up some curtains and been to the gym again. Stacey is so pleased with me that we arrange to meet in Cirencester for a romantic lunch. I get there and can't find her, and I don't have my mobile with me. I find a payphone and realise that I have no idea what her mobile number is – I'm used to just finding it in my contacts list. I lunch alone.


I have to file a column for the Indy. I realise that I'm going to have to write it longhand. I don't think I've written with a pen for 10 years. I start to write and, by the fifth line my hand hurts so much I have to stop. I finally finish and get the number for the copy-takers (people who normally get breathless dispatches dictated from the wi-fi free battlefields of Afghanistan). The woman who takes down my dictation doesn't laugh once – it's very depressing. It takes a long time as I can't actually read my own writing.


I can only watch terrestrial TV and I'm bored. I force Stacey to play Scrabble with me. As I wait for her to play her turn my mind wanders to my imaginary friends on Facebook. How are they all? Do I have more friends than Louis Theroux? Weirdly, although I miss it, I start to almost enjoy my self-denial. It reminds me of travelling in Syria and agreeing to fast for a day during Ramadan for a film I was making. I'm beginning to feel empowered.

I'm off to London on the train. I haven't got a mobile and I have a series of meetings so it's very hard to coordinate stuff. I drive to the station, where you can only get a parking permit by paying on the phone – which normally works fine, but without my mobile, I'm stuffed. Decide to risk it and park without a permit. On the train I usually use my modem to go online. I am very bored but, weirdly, Princess Anne is sitting in front of me so I peer through the gap in the seats and read her briefing papers.

Train gets in late and I try to find a payphone but don't have any change, and so miss my first meeting. I have lunch with a major media mogul who has three mobiles on the table. I try to be disapproving but one of them is an iPhone that she bought in Los Angeles and I can't help caressing it gently for a moment – it's beautiful.

On the way home I'm in the "quiet" carriage and I start to tut-tut when a man makes a pointless call and starts talking to "David" about his meeting with "Steve". The call is of such monumental unimportance that I feel the urge to grab the phone and throw it out of the window. Instead, I have a whisky. Get back to car to find a parking ticket.


Take my laptop out the drawer and stare... put it back and go for a walk with the dogs, who love the new, Luddite me.


Try to watch afternoon TV, get very depressed. Choosing between Paul O'Grady and The Weakest Link is like choosing between cyanide and hemlock. As it gets dark we have a power-cut. Normally, I would have a total panic and grumble; instead, I read a book calmly by candlelight and feel strangely at peace with myself. God, I hope I don't have an epiphany and become a bore.


The power is back on and I really want to play video games. Stacey and I play Scrabble instead. Rock and roll.


Been to the gym again, and can feel a muscle in my arm, which is exciting. Write another column in longhand. My wrist doesn't hurt quite as much but still, it's really annoying. And I have to actually count words to get a word count. But I do feel a little bit "literary" writing it in this huge leather- bound book someone gave me for Christmas ages ago. Copy-taker woman doesn't laugh again and gives a little "tut-tut" when I make her write down the word "shit".


I hear about the queues for the iPhone outside the Apple store, and laugh at these people's sad, materialistic lives. Then I remember the one I caressed in London... I'd normally post my columns on Facebook today for non-Indy readers to read. I go for a walk with dogs who now love me more than a bone.


Woke up this morning with a clear head and a weird feeling. I don't think that I really want to go back online that much. I've done loads this week. My wife loves me again and I've felt really... good. I realise that I use the internet to soak up spare time and instead, it sucks me in. It's useful when I'm, say, on a train, but maybe I should limit the time I spend on it when Monday comes and I get my gadgets back.

Very angry with myself as I realise that this diary is going to read like the cliché: "journalist" does something vaguely difficult and comes to realise something "profound" about himself and thus changes his life for the better.


Have been to the gym, walked the dogs, emptied the dishwasher, brought in some firewood and cleaned out the rose garden. Stacey is now talking of renewing our vows.


One day to go but I don't really care. I cook supper and play Scrabble having put the kids to bed and read them a story. I feel like Super Dad.


Go up to London to watch my dad march in the Remembrance Day parade. Am supposed to meet up with family but I haven't got my mobile so don't see them in St James's Park. I meet them all in Simpson's in the Strand and can't help noticing that they all put their mobiles on the table. None of them believes my story about going without gadgets: they think I just didn't bother to turn up for the march.

Finally, I go online. I have 98 "friend" requests on Facebook. This takes me past 1,000 friends. I'm not as excited as I thought I might be. I have 112 emails. Most are to do with extending my penis or helping some poor beleaguered Nigerian get £50,000,000 out of his country. There is not one important email. I am stunned. Decide to totally restructure my work-play timetable structure.

I certainly need some of my gadgets: email and laptop are essential to my writing career and a mobile is always useful. Everything else, though, is nothing more than a method of distraction. I make some gadget resolutions: from now on I'm going to limit my Crackbook addiction to half an hour a day, after the kids have gone to bed and make more time for some of real friends and my dogs... oh, and family. I will keep digital TV but only because I love the Japanese game show Takeshi's Castle. I also love my digital radios as I can get loads of stations in the country. I do need my iPod because it's got all my music and it's a useful back-up folder. And what if I kidnapped somebody and needed to make an anonymous call? I'd need that electronic voice-changer. But maybe I'll dump the translating pen. Any offers?


Buy myself an iPhone. God, it's beautiful.