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Fast cars and slow internet make for the perfect weekend

Fast cars and slow internet make for the perfect weekend

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Photo by Dominic James for The Verge

This past weekend, for the second time in my life, I flew up the famous Goodwood hillclimb in a McLaren supercar. It was the pinnacle of a most excellent weekend spent in the sunny British countryside, surrounded by gorgeous classic cars, roaring engines, and the pervasive smell of petrol. Oh, and almost zero connectivity to speak of. It was heaven.

Few things bring Brits together as easily and with as much conviviality as festivals, and one of the true classics of the genre is the Goodwood Festival of Speed. This annual summer event in the south of England attracts keen petrolhead pilgrims from all over the sceptered isle as well as the United States and continental Europe. Unlike trendy music festivals like Glastonbury, however, Goodwood is still quite old fashioned about the technology it uses, especially on the communications front.

I found car companies at the show favored using walkie-talkies in lieu of phones because of how bad reception was. As for myself, I could leech a little bit of Wi-Fi here and there, but the moment I stepped out into the paddocks full of classic cars, it was just me, the smell and noise of old school motor racing, and a delighted crowd soaking it all up. No LTE for Facebook live streams, not even enough mobile bandwidth to upload an Instagram shot of a classic Ferrari. It was so liberating and delightful to cast off the chains of the internet.

One of the trends I'm sure everyone has noticed by now is the distrubing increase in people experiencing their most memorable moments through the screen of a phone. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, having once recorded a deadmau5 light show superimposed on a London skyscraper on my phone. I now have neither the phone nor the recording, but I do remember being irritated by having to hold up that glowing rectangle and filtering the experience through it. Goodwood's connectivity desert deprived me of that urge to record everything, and because of that, I was able to enjoy it so much more.

I still took some photos of the cars at Goodwood, of course, and I snuck out a couple of tweets at the few oases of internet scattered around the bucolic venue, but I felt none of my usual urgency to participate in the constant chatter online.

Even before I got strapped in to the track-only McLaren 570S Sprint — which is so spartan on the inside as to be essentially a carbon fiber roll cage with a richly saturated orange paint job — I was more cheerful and upbeat than I had been the whole week. I'd venture to suggest that was primarily down to my keeping Twitter closed and thus missing out on the latest catastrophic news about the plight of refugees fleeing violence, extremist attacks, or abuses of political and corporate power. All of those things matter, but marinating in them all day just isn't psychologically healthy. It can't be.

Instead, the things occupying my mind were the birds chirping outside, the exceedingly hot fireproof kit I was outfitted in, and the deeply amusing phenomenon of onlookers treating me as if I were a racing driver because of the uniform. Honestly, the Sunday was such a sunny and naturally pleasant day that you'd have to work to make yourself anxious or unhappy in that environment. When I disconnected from the internet, albeit briefly, I reconnected with nature and the people around me.

As to the minute-long speed run up the hill, it was much more enjoyable this time around than on my first ride last year. The first time was terrifying and literally breathtaking, whereas on this occasion I was able to see something other than my imminent doom and I could better appreciate the physics-defying control and grip of the supercar beneath me. As brief as it was, that hillclimb is still one of the most raw forms of excitement I know, and I'd dress up in whatever clowny outfit is required to do it again. And next time I'm leaving my phone at home.


Photo by Dominic James for The Verge