I’ve recently enjoyed a two-week vacation in the US, escaping, amongst many other things, the increasingly vociferous EU referendum debate in Britain. As our holiday approached, my wife and I made a pact: no social media, principally Facebook, while we were abroad. Whatsapps home would be kept to a minimum. Apart from the obvious security concerns when you’re posting new check-ins at far-flung places, would a break from our devices really make a difference?
The term Digital Detox isn’t simply a hashtag; it even has its own Wikipedia article. Truth be told, the smartphones did make the trip. Of course, it’s not because we needed to call or text anyone, like old mobile phones once did. Navigation was the first reason: Google Maps was a must to help navigate our way from the airport to our rented villa, done using its offline feature. This downloads a vast, preset area of a map that you can access offline. Doing so avoided any mobile data charges – in fact, I didn’t switch mobile data on for my trip, choosing to scavenge Wi-Fi where I could instead – and came with the added benefit of much improved battery life, even with Wi-Fi turned on.
While in the US we also caught up with a friend, who we’d not seen for several years, and here Facebook Messenger was vital. Notifications suddenly became important as this was our only official mechanism of connectivity. Phone numbers to call? Well, yes, they could have been swapped however but that’s not how the world rolls.
The need to be online abroad is obvious today; the requirement to research local activities online, check the weather easily and even check in for the flight home. Travellers did once cope without such connectivity, where the only list of places you’d visited would appear on a postcard sent home (and one you’d normally arrive home ahead of). You’d rely on travel guides or, if staying in a rental villa, the handwritten content found in the guestbook.
Yet such nostalgia means little to my two sons, aged 9 and 5. They were allowed to bring their Lenovo tablets, with fully charged batteries saved on departure day until the flight began. And that’s the problem with a digital detox; the pressure of expectation. Your friend’s Whatsapp may be innocently dropped into a chat from back home in Blighty, and once that double-tick has turned blue, they’ll be staring at their screen awaiting your response. And when that happens, you can’t pretend you were at Wet n Wild’s Disco H2O ride when they’ll know you were staring, head down, at your phone.
It’s also possible to accidentally be hooked up to home. You can turn off many of your smartphone’s notifications, but while innocently being online to look at park opening times, a visual notification appears that you’ve got a new message. And curiousity comes with little penalty of effort; you *could* just quickly tap the notification to see what’s new.
However, I’m pleased to report that we resisted most of this and staying away from Facebook was quite easy. The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) remains, although we’re the ones supposedly having a good time, and don’t need to worry about everybody else. It’s not the full switch off I’d hoped for, but it felt good all the same.