I was late to the mobile phone game. I first bought one when a relative went on a gap year which included a three-month skiing trip to New Zealand. The idea was that I would carry this phone around everywhere in case he was caught in an avalanche and needed to make an emergency call. Truly, love is blind, and sometimes very dim.
A few years later, a friend amazed me when we were holidaying together in Greece when she produced a new phone on which you could read emails, even at a distance. It was the first of the smart phones that we now take for granted. It was astonishing – and very expensive. She was a successful businesswoman, and not only could she afford one but it made sense for her to have one. Me, not so much. I had to wait a few years.
Now it’s rare for people not to have smart phones and, because they’re usually paid for through a monthly contract (a very clever marketing ploy), they seem much more affordable than they really are.
Those of us packing for our holidays – whether in our home country or abroad – know how difficult it is to decide what to take with us and what to leave out. A small suitcase as in-cabin baggage or pay the extra for an all-but-the-kitchen sink suitcase that goes in the hold. Choices, choices.
The one thing none of us who has one will forget about, of course, is our mobile. After less than 20 years of its going mainstream, who would ever think of leaving it at home now?
Even if we don’t need it for work purposes – and many of us do like to keep in touch, just to see what’s going on – we convince ourselves we need to have it with us just in case.
Just in case of what, I wonder, and find that’s easily answered. There’s the checking of the trains to the airport; the Uber taxi perhaps as an alternative if necessary; the plane timings – what if it’s cancelled or delayed? – and, once we’re away, we’ve got to keep an eye out on what’s going on at home. What if there’s an emergency at home? What if someone’s sick? What if someone needs to talk to you urgently? What if, what if, what if?
What if indeed. Why are our brains in such a turmoil imagining the terrible things that might happen in our absence? Are our lives so full of fear that we cannot imagine life just continuing in a mildly dull way with friends and family noticing we are away but just to hope we’re having a good time. Nothing less, nothing more.
The media – both social and traditional – plays its part in loading our tired brains with continuous fear. Fear sells, it’s good for business. Who wants to read that all’s well in the world when a state of permanent dread works so much better. If you doubt this, let me know if you can find a magazine or newspaper that focuses on the world of the contented and is also a best seller. I’ve looked and haven’t found one. I’ll be impressed if you can.
Social media is great for keeping us in touch with our friends, either virtually or literally and we can contact them, or not, whenever we wish. And, even without social media, the smart phone itself is the container of so many of the world’s secrets and a fantastic source of information. It’s an encyclopaedia on the move that requires no storage space. Perfect precision.
As a counsellor, I have mixed feelings about social media. I think it has its good points, including helping us to connect and feel part of something when we perhaps are feeling a little lost. And as for WhatsApp, who’d be without it with the opportunity to share photographs and catch up with friends you rarely see at a fraction of the cost it used to be? Not me, that’s for sure.
The problem is, as we all know by now, smart phones are addictive. They’re intended to be. The more we surf, the more we’re drawn in and the longer we stay. And the more information is gleaned from us – about us – and so we are persuaded to stay on that phone for longer and longer. And so it continues.
I have to say, however, I’m a little sad when I see people on holiday staring at their mobile phones for hours on end. They’re often staying in places of great beauty and enjoying times that are quite different from those ordinary lives I imagine they – and I – have escaped from for a week or so. These travellers have expended time and money. What was the point of that if they’re not going to enjoy the moment while they’re in it?
I’m taking up an experiment of my own this year, to see how easy or difficult it is to remove myself from my smart phone. I’ll take it with me – I’m not that brave – but I’ll leave it in my room and check it morning and evening only. If I miss something urgent, I’ll only be delayed by a few hours but I’m also going to tell myself that’s unlikely to happen.
Instead, I’m going to use my five senses to get as much out of my holiday as I can, so I return refreshed and reinvigorated for my next adventures. I’m going to listen to the sound of the sea, read at least one book, taste some fresh-from-the-sea fish, feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and breathe in the air to try to name all the delicious scents I connect so closely with the Mediterranean.
And I’m going to reflect on how I experience a holiday without a smartphone around my neck.
I think back to that innocent holiday when I envied my friend her latest technological toy, not realising how important it would become. Soon afterwards, my servant became my master. I think it’s time for a change of roles.