Time To Unplug: How Electronics Change Vacation

It’s a typical family vacation. Day one: Dad is on a business call, Mom is on the iPad, you’re tweeting “this lifeguard is sooooo hot, I think I might just pretend to drown to feel his biceps hold me tight </3 #Florida #Beachbum #Vacation,” and your little sister is Instagramming the artsy palm tree she just encountered.

What’s the point? How can you relax on a vacation when you’re too busy worrying about the sun’s glare on your iPhone screen?

“I’ve been on vacation with people where we literally spend a half hour sitting next to each other in complete silence tuned into our phones on the beach or out to lunch,” Elizabeth Coogan ’14 said. This is not an uncommon scene. Interviews with a variety of students suggest that there’s no question: electronics are taking over vacation.

According to students, Instagram is used to provoke the envy of those stuck back home. With an iPhone practically an appendage, some people feel the need to Instagram everything from the view out their First Class airplane seat window to the frosted virgin piña colada they’re sipping under their beach umbrella.

“When I went to Florida over winter break I Instagramed pictures of the ocean and the pool and the sun and the beach and fruity drinks while all my friends were home in the freezing cold. I guess you could say I try to make people jealous” said Coogan.

And with 54 likes and counting, people find reassurance in knowing that even though they’re away, no one will have to wonder for a second how crystal blue the ocean water their swimming in is, or how tasty their ethnic food looks.

“I use my phone a lot on vacations because I want to Instagram and show everyone what it actually looks like on my vacation,” says Eliza Shaw ’14. However, some students like Shaw insist that it doesn’t detract from the fun. “Having my phone with me didn’t take away from the quality of my vacation because I used it not so much for verbally communicating with friends but visually communicating with friends,” she says.

But wait a second—where’s the family? Was two hours trying to reconfigure the hotel computer to work with an iChat account enough to miss the family surf lesson?

With the presence of cell phones, computers and the like, it is impossible to truly leave the stresses of regular every day routines behind. Constant text dings and Facebook notifications popping up on an iPhone screen can be a distraction from time that should be spent   with family, or enjoying the unusual surroundings. “I find myself worrying about things happening at home that I can’t do anything to control from where I am,” Noa Wind ’15 said.

There’s no doubt that not being able to leave the electronics behind can seriously detract from the quality of the vacation. In fact, it’s flat out rude—and most parents won’t take it.

“I know from personal experience my parents got annoyed when I was texting my friends at the table on New Year’s Eve,” says Jenna McNicholas ’15.  “I do think it’s rude if people are on their phone their whole vacation because they shouldn’t take time with their family in a beautiful place for granted, they should enjoy the moment. Having said that, I think it’s ok to Instagram or text your friends every once in a while as long as there is a balance and it doesn’t keep you from your family too much.”

Wind has had similar experiences. “Two years ago I went to Cchina with my family and we had a tour guide the whole time and walked around the cities every day,” she says. “That would be the kind of vacation that my parents would have a problem with me using social media because they want me to be active and actually learn about where we go.”

Instead of being completely isolated with a phone, Coogan waits until an appropriate time to break out the devices.

“Don’t get me wrong, as someone who doesn’t travel a ton, I live vicariously through the Twitter and Instagram pictures that people post on the beach in California or skiing in Switzerland,” says Coogan. “But personally, I’m more into social networking my vacation after the fact, or at least later at night when I’m back at the hotel doing nothing, rather than stopping in the middle of a busy tourist attraction to upload an artsy picture.”