A month or so ago, we took a vacation to the Bahamas. It came a time when I really needed it, so I was excited. We headed to the Cove at Atlantis; what I considered to be the perfect place for a quick family getaway.
If you know me, you know I like to be connected via technology. So, packed with me or on my person was my iPhone, blackberry, iPad, Kindle and laptop. Some of you, I’m sure at this point, are already saying this is too much stuff, but you should know I was in the middle of some important stuff at work so I was just trying to be prepared, hence the laptop. I had no intention of sitting on my laptop during a week-long, family vacation. I had intended on using my other devices though.
When we checked in to the hotel, we immediately headed to the pool and beach area, just to walk around and get some fresh air. As we walked around the pool, all I could see were parents reading some electronic device while their kids (and iPhone-less nannies) played around them. Honestly, 80% of them or more were reading some sort of digital device, be it a phone or iPad. It hit me at that point; they were indeed connected, but they were completely disconnected from their kids. A family vacation, I thought, should mean 100% connection with my family (okay 97%). I didn’t want to be that dad who was always looking at his iPhone instead of engaging with his kids on vacation.
When we got to the room, I put all my devices in the safe and planned not to look at a single one (short of two quick daily glances for emergency emails from work on my blackberry) for the entire trip. For me, that meant no photo sharing of pictures on Facebook, no witty comments on twitter, no blogging, no Foursquare check-ins, no reading my digital edition of USA TODAY, no nothing. It also meant no music and that I was going to have to carry a digital camera; you know, the old-fashioned kind where you have to take out the mini-SD card and download the pictures to a computer (gasp).
As I put everything into the safe, I knew it was going to be hard, but at the same time, I was embarrassed that the process was taking such a conscious effort. I thought to myself, “why is it such a big deal to disconnect from the world for six days?”
On the morning of the first day, we lathered up the kids in sunscreen, put on some shorts and t-shirts over our bathing suits and headed down to breakfast. Along the way, the kids had so much fun stopping to look at the beautiful assortment of fish and sea creatures the Atlantis offers at every turn. The Cove, specifically, has a phenomenal collection of African cichlids; beautiful tropical fish from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika. I used to breed this variety of tropical fish when I was young (as a business – more on that some other time) and I was fascinated by the color, quantity and size of the fish. This kids and I couldn’t stop looking at them in the open ponds. I took many pictures of the kids looking and pointing at the fish. The kids were all smiles and I loved their fascination with the fish. Under normal conditions, this would have meant me taking pictures with my iPhone and immediately posting a few on Facebook for friends and family to enjoy. Given my “unplugged” experiment, I took out my digital camera and snapped away. Friends and family would have to wait for Facebook pictures.
At breakfast, the “connected” were reading a variety of devices. Given the time of day and the abundance of flowing coffee, I assumed all were reading their favorite periodicals, though some even had iPads on the table to allow their toddlers a chance to catch up with cartoons. I however, was “news free” and frankly, happy to be (though I did feel a little twinge for at least a bit of ephemeral political information). The family and I enjoyed a nice breakfast, each enjoying something different from the amazing buffet offered at the Cove, ranging from pancakes to Eggs Benedict to Cheerios to crepes. The selection of food available, I thought, was amazing and worthy of a picture. Hey, I’m in the travel / technology business, so sharing any type of travel info is basically what I do for a living; I don’t go anywhere without gathering travel information on rooms, views, restaurants and more. But this time I simply didn’t take a picture. It seemed silly; taking a quick picture with a phone is one thing – you can do that in five seconds. Taking a camera out of case to take a picture seemed like a bit more effort than I wanted to make.
After breakfast we headed to the pool and all the “connected” parents were already deep into their devices. Some laid on their backs with arms stretched straight up, holding Kindles. Most others were sitting up, baseball caps or hat visors pulled down while they read their phones or iPads. I walked, as my camera (hung around my neck by its cord) bounced in front of me with each step. We situated ourselves and I immediately took some pictures of the kids. They looked so cute in their suits and hats. Snap, snap, “cheese”, snap some more. Within a few minutes, I had a nice collection of candid and posed pictures. The camera then went back into the case. By now, in addition to Facebook posts, I would have normally texted a few pictures to my parents and sister so they could appreciate the moment, but they’d have to wait. (Little did I know however, they’d still be waiting.)
We swam and eventually came time to lounge on the chaise for a bit of rest. At that very moment, I had a great urge to reach for my blackberry and iPhone. Amazing I thought; a moment of “rest” to me caused me to look for a phone. Hmmm, that can’t be good. So, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sun for what seemed like an eternity but was actually about four minutes. I’m not a sun worshiper (any longer) and I really wanted something to read. If I had my iPhone with me, I thought to myself, I’d be reading USA TODAY and the Wall Street Journal. But, I didn’t. So I sat there for another five minutes. The kids played busily in front of us, just five feet away. They were enjoying one another. That too, I thought, was vacation. Daddy didn’t have to be involved in everything.
The day and days went on with more fun, more meals, more sea life and great events like building sand castles, searching for seashells and walks on the beach and, of course, since I was traveling with kids, more than a few “share that with your brother/sister” type instructional comments.
During the vacation, the urge to reach for the blackberry took about two days to break. The desire to read the iPad for news took longer. The urge to check-in (like at dinner at Nobu) broke quickly. Finally, the urge to take a quick picture on my iPhone and post or text it really never went away.
Our vacation ended weeks ago. I’ve only just download the pictures to my computer and my parents and sister still haven’t received any images of our vacation. I’ll have to get to that. My Facebook friends may never see anything more than the pic or two I posted.
So, what did I learn from my “unplugged” vacation experiment? A lot. Okay, specifically three things: First, I’ll admit it, I’m too connected sometimes. I’ll give you that. My kids’ image of me clearly includes me always looking at some device. I know this because at one paint, Sophie asked me “Daddy, where’s your phone?” That’s bad. I want them to remember me looking at them, into their eyes, not eyes down, glued to a blackberry or iPhone.
Second, I re-confirmed I truly enjoy technology. I love what it can do and how it connects people. I now live so far away from my sister and parents, which is heartbreaking to me, and I love how I can share quick, impromptu images of my kids with them. They too, love this. Facebook has also allowed me to connect with distant family around the world and this is amazing to me.
Finally, I have learned that some people just don’t get it. I get so many comments (both positive and negative) about people’s feelings about Facebook. Really, if you like my posts, great. If you don’t get the whole Facebook thing, either get with the program or leave me alone. For me, Facebook isn’t just about reading people’s silly posts, it’s about staying in touch with people I know, it’s about reading TechCrunch, seeing specials from my favorite stores and getting a quick chuckle daily from some really funny friends. But I agree; despite all this, reading your iPhone while you should be paying attention to the people around you is not a good thing.
So what does this all mean? Again, the answer comes down to balance.
I’d like to say a completely “unplugged” vacation was better than a “connected” one, but I can’t. In the end, for me, there has to be a happy medium between “connected” and “unplugged”. I remember the days before cell phones and frankly, I don’t want to live in that era again. However, I need to be able to take a picture and post a picture to Facebook without taking the time to read everyone’s posts every time. Those extra moments are stolen moments from my real life and they belong to me and my family. I also don’t need to read my email constantly. You can wait a bit for a reply from me; you’ll survive.
Two weeks after vacation, I can say I’m working towards this “connectivity” balance and I think I’m better for it. More to come. In case I fall off the wagon, remind me of this post. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pictures to upload.