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Worthwhile Vacationing: More People, Less Technology

As summer approaches, many among us (especially the young, and young at heart) inwardly turn our thoughts towards the inimitable summer vacation.  Whether you fancy the beach or the mountains, the time is meant for recreation and respite (so says Merriam-Webster) – and I would add, reconnecting.  The quickening pace of life and the rapid changes in information technology have made the need for time away both to unwind and reconnect even more precious.  And while every era has had its advancements and innovations which impacted the manner in which people live (often times for the better – think indoor plumbing), the current revolution whereby many people carry a lifetime of entertainment in the palm of their hands, has skewed life and impacted recreation in a unique manner.

In a previous article [1], I argued that technology, while enhancing life in many ways, risks removing us from face-to-face, genuine encounters with others, and this has significant consequences.  Early reports [2] suggested the loss of these encounters negatively impacted [3] people’s moods and relationships; more recent work [4] is finding similar results [5].  The more time spent on social media (greater than 2 hours per day, in one study), the higher the experience of isolation and depression.  Many will say that their current jobs, educational environment, or family lives demand the constant (digital) contact in order to manage the expectations and requirements before them.  While acknowledging the potential benefits of timely communication, coordinating activities, and even the peace of mind of knowing where to find loved ones, there are dangers when technology takes the place of emotionally connecting and relating.  Perhaps this summer can be one of making real contact with others.

Give Me A Break

The truth about our human nature is that we are made to experience relationships and flourish in a particular way, and that this will, in fact, always be possible, no matter what the difficulties imposed by our culture.   As advances in technology make our handheld devices more powerful and prolific, the challenge of remaining focused on our priorities is increasingly difficult – but it is not impossible.

A recent survey [6] of adolescents, arguably those most tethered to the “cloud” since they have never known life without it, reveals some surprising findings.  While valuing social media, nearly two-thirds of teens had taken a break from it—most of them voluntarily—citing that it was getting in the way of schoolwork, they were tired of the “conflict and drama,” or more simply, they were tired of trying to keep up with what was going on.  It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the corollaries for adults: work interference, information fatigue, and disdain for the inevitable social comparisons posted on-line.

Respite, Restoration, Recreation, and Reconnecting

While vacation time seems readily suitable for these 4 R’s, technology use even while in the presence of our family and loved ones is not uncommon, and will not automatically cease with changes in latitudes.  There is a clear risk that vacations will be spent together physically (i.e. everyone is in same location) but without any real personal and emotional engagement as some family members are transfixed by their devices.  One can easily imagine teens meandering through the days with their heads bent down over their phones as they share their “family moments” or majestic sights with those on the other side of the screen rather than those standing next to them; or, simply plugging in the earphones and ignoring everyone around them.

A solution to such situations is suggested in a recent article [7] arguing for safeguarding one’s marriage by having “smartphone boundaries.”   Limits include such things as prohibiting technology at the dinner table and during leisure time activities, as well as spending our time en route via plane, train or automobile by interacting with one another rather than being lost in individual screens.  I would submit that similar boundaries would benefit singles and married alike as they embark on their summer excursion.

While some might experience a brief period of awkwardness (or even withdrawal), the natural inclination and need to be with another and connect emotionally should quickly take over and ease the transition.  As explored in some prior reviews, it remains true that the relational needs of the human person are fundamental and universal.  Psychological research has long shown that there are no substitutes (e.g., the feed and generic care of orphaned babies was not sufficient for them to thrive, they needed also affection, attachment and emotional nurturing).  This need does not disappear as adults.  The quality of in-person connections really does trump the quantity of digital clicks.

The best therapeutic advice we have for the proper “care and feeding” of a friendship, a marriage, a family or any other meaningful relationship, is to ensure quality face-to-face time, active listening, and a real presence—sacrificial and giving—for the sake of the other.