Vacation Unplugged: Leave the Phone at Home

 

Mobile technology has come so far, so fast that hundreds of millions now actually miss the proverbial forest for the trees – or, more specifically, they miss the grandeur of the Taj Mahal for a silly selfie, or the immense beauty of the Grand Canyon for a mere video game.

It’s a thoroughly modern quandary: do you take the picture/shoot the video, or do you experience the moment? Perhaps the most famous illustration of how big an issue this has become today is pair of famous photos tweeted out last year by NBC News.

The first showed a crowd gathered in a part of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City as Pope John Paul II’s body was carried across the square into the Basilica for public viewing on April 4, 2005. In the second, a very similar crowd is shown in almost the exact same location as they watched Pope Francis speak for the first time after his election on March 13, 2013. The most striking difference: thousands of people in the 2013 shot are holding their cell phone cameras aloft to capture the moment on silicone memory chips; in the 2005 photo nearly all of the faithful are trusting their own eyes – and their ears and noses and other senses – to capture the event in their own, remarkably vivid memories.

We at Carnival Corporation see this growing phenomenon all the time. As you can imagine, many of our customers increasingly want to access their technology while at sea. So we are investing millions of dollars to bring technologies like the Internet, wifi and video streaming to our more than 100 ships sailing under 9 different brand names. Yet more and more we’re seeing our guests seemingly miss the fact that they’re aboard fabulous, state-of-the-art ships that feature all sorts of fantastic restaurants and entertainment, and that visit some of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Instead they are choosing – probably without really thinking much about it – to see those things primarily through a very limited lens or a tiny video monitor rather than to experience them in all their fullness and splendor via their five senses?

I understand the desire to share photos with others back home. And I get it that in this age of social media lots of people can show the world how creative or funny they can be by filming their own little movie shorts. But by over-using technology we are diminishing our own experiences. So here are some suggestions from someone who spends pretty much all of his time thinking about ways we can create better life experiences for our guests:

  1. Put the technology away during family dinners on vacation. Maybe one photo together at the table is appropriate for remembering the event later on. But your actual memory of the dinner will be more vivid and visceral if you spend time talking, sharing and laughing together rather than texting or checking email and social media. Leave the phones in the room or cabin.
  2. Record beautiful sights in your mind’s eye rather than on silicone memory chips. How did it feel? What did you smell at that moment? Was it sunny and warm, or cold and foggy? Despite the technical advances in photography, no photo or video can completely capture the visual – and visceral – details that your eyes and other senses can take in.
  3. Go old school: use a map instead of GPS, especially when traveling with children. Use the map to plan your trip in advance, focusing on the sights you want to see along the way. Discuss the history or the geography or other important subjects related to what you’ll be seeing trip. Appoint a human navigator to provide driving directions based on landmarks rather than digital data.
  4. Use your time waiting in line well. Waiting in line is almost unavoidable on vacation. Instead of checking email, or letting your kids play video games, converse, play games, tell silly jokes, look around, people watch.
  5. Resist the temptation to turn on the video player for long car rides. Play car games. Talk. Sing. Read books. Encourage the kids to draw and color pictures of things they’re seeing along the road. Count license plates. Just don’t let the kids put on headphones and check-out while “checking in.”

My point is that while today’s digital communications and camera technology are really amazing, they can cause you to miss out on fully experiencing many beautiful and amazing things in the world around us, including the friends and family with whom we travel. Merely going somewhere isn’t the real point of traveling, of vacationing or of being at big events. The point is to experience those things, and you can do that best with you own five senses.

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