Independence Day: How I turned my smartphone off for the weekend and survived
For the past several years, I’ve spent nearly every Fourth of July at a rural lake house near Austin with almost no phone or Internet access. The only phone service was via a landline in the kitchen, and when we tried to explain wireless Internet to the 84-year-old lake house owner a few months ago, she thought we were making it up.
These things (combined with my refusal to join the big bad world of smartphones until last November) always led me to be one of the crotchety guests who demanded that my friends and family members put down their mobile devices and enjoy the beauty of the lake and the company of their fellow Independence Day revelers.
At least, until last weekend, when I became one of the offenders as our grandmother’s well-meaning children hooked up that wireless Internet and the ritzy new community across the lake put in cell towers. There I was, tap-tap-tapping away on my iPhone while sitting on the dock, being admonished by my friends.
“We don’t want to be checked in on FourSquare,” they said.
“Quit checking your email,” they said.
“I CAN’T DISCONNECT!” I wailed.
At what point did we, as Americans, develop the inability to relax on vacation? We know Europeans with their many weeks of vacation don’t feel nearly so compelled. According to a recent survey, 74 percent of us want to be connected on vacation, and nearly one in five are emailing and surfing via mobile devices and tablets — even on a honeymoon.
I can certainly relate, because although I tried to leave my phone upstairs in my suitcase all weekend, I felt like an amputee with phantom limb syndrome, knowing I was missing something and feeling like it should still be attached to me.
Except I was just experiencing what my family calls FOMO – or Fear Of Missing Out. The reality was that I was missing very little, prompting me to write my own Declaration of Independence from my mobile device (at least while on vacation). Some of the tenets include:
1. Announce your absence
Because everyone knew I was out of the office on vacation, I received very few emails from co-workers, and even fewer that couldn’t wait until I returned to the office. In our hyper-connected era, we all recognize the value of a little downtime, and it’s likely that others won’t bother you on vacation unless absolutely necessary.
2. Everyone else is not having more fun than I am, nor do they care what I’m doing
Though I kept checking Facebook and Twitter to see what my friends were doing over the long weekend, I realized that I never wished I was anywhere else-not once. If anything, it made me appreciate my vacation choice all the more.
And you know what? No one else really cared where I was either, because they were off having their own fun.
3. I did miss out on something
I missed out on seeing that “incredible” shooting star and I didn’t catch that mind-blowing one-and-a-half twist backflip that a friend did from the diving platform. All because I had my nose buried in junk emails about getting 20 percent off at J.Crew.
As the temperatures become unbearable here in Houston over the next few months and the entire city seems to skip town in favor of cooler weather elsewhere, wouldn’t it be nice if we all declared our independence from our smartphones?
I’ve certainly learned my lesson, and can promise that this American, for one, will be switching my phone off for Labor Day.
Katy Caudle is director of research at The Alexander Group.