Can you cut the tech cord?
Want to make yourself a little bit crazy? Leave your phone at home on one day of your travels. Just one day.
Put it down, leave the house or hotel, and lock the door behind you. How far do you think you’ll get before you have the urge to dash back inside and reconnect with your technological lifeline?
Want to hear something even crazier? Even though technology is forbidden during Outward Bound wilderness programs, for the first two or three days after they are separated from their phones, some participants still experience phantom vibrations in their legs, where their phones would be tucked into their pockets.
‘Just the anticipation of it [the phone vibrating] may occupy some of your resources. That would suggest that we are connected to it in deeper ways than we completely understand,’ says psychologist David Strayer, whose research at the University of Utah includes the effect nature has on our brains. ‘I think the empirical science is lagging behind what we need to know because technology is moving so fast.’
Yep--our increasing dependence on technology is a big science project, with our brains as guinea pigs. And if you’re as connected when you travel as you are when you’re home, then are you really on vacation? Your body might be getting a break from routine, but is your brain ? ‘If you’re still texting and talking on the phone and doing business as usually while you’re out in nature, then you’re really not in nature,’ says Strayer.
Keeping your phone stowed when you’re traveling can be particularly challenging because of Instagram and Facebook. And phones are also our cameras. Vacation snapshots are a time-honored tradition, and for some of us, the creative challenge of taking artful photographs is among the joys of travel.
But digital photography has made us greedy. We photograph willy-nilly, allowing screens to mediate our experience of the world, flooding social media with proof of our adventures--which are rendered somehow less adventurous when they join the flow of memes and cat videos.
To some extent, we are starting to figure all this out. It’s why Camp Grounded (www.campgrounded. org), offers ‘ digital detox’ summer camps--four day tech-free getaways for adults in various locales. (They’ll be offering one in the Texas Hill Country Oct. 7 to 10. Others will be held in Northern California, New York, and North Carolina this year.)
Breaking the tech habit when you travel isn’t easy. And perhaps leaving the phone at home is a little drastic. After all, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Google Maps. But cutting back on tech engagement when you travel is not a bad idea, and here are a few reasons and tools to help you do that. Or at least try.
Four good reasons to break the tech habit when you travel
1. Getting away from your routine and into a new environment can give you a fresh perspective on your life, but staying tethered to your phone is like keeping one foot at home. You’re not going to get that long view of your life that travel can afford if you’re checking in multiple times a day.
2. Too many vacation pix might annoy your social network. You might think of it as sharing, but to some people it will come across as gloating. A lot of people looking at your gorgeous fresh-fish-and- tropical-cocktail lunch by the beach are eating microwaved frozen meals at their desks. And large photo dumps--anything more than a half-dozen pix at a time--beg to be ignored.
3. Any change of routine is great for stimulating creativity, but staying connected prevents your brain from reaping the stimulating benefits of new experiences. ‘Constant distraction and multitasking keeps us on a very surface level of thought,’ says Carolyn Gregoire, who co-authored, with psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (Tarcherperigee, $26.95). ‘We’re not able to make those creative connections and mine the ideas that come from really getting into our landscape.’
4. If you’re traveling with friends or family, connecting over the experience should bring you together, but this can’t happen if everyone is peering at their phone. Burrowing into virtual fun is particularly tempting during long car trips (provided, of course, you’re not driving), but letting your mind wander as scenery spools past, having random conversations and, of course, arguing about music (and singing along), should be as much a part of road tripping as the destination.
Six tips for cutting the tech cord when you travel
1. Plan ahead for minimal contact from your job. Put an auto-responder on your email, let colleagues know that you will respond only to the most dire situations. Anticipate problems and outline to your supervisor or colleagues how those should be handled. If you have a team you trust implicitly, you can go even further: Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK has his assistant change his email password and not tell him what it is before he leaves on vacation. ‘I call going dark,’ he says. Also, respect other people’s vacation time when you’re back at the office and they will be more likely to respect yours.
2. If your personality is Type A and being disconnected feels like slacking, try reframing it as proactively building your creative brainpower. Don’t worry about feeling lazy; it’s going to be harder than you think.
3. When you are traveling internationally and can do without an international phone plan, save the money and take yourself out for a nice meal instead. You can still connect to Wifi when it’s available, but you won’t be able to check in every idle moment.
4. Turn off all your phone’s chimes, buzzes, bells, and visual notifications. Cutting the tech cord will be far less difficult if it doesn’t require the willpower of ignoring notifications. (This is a good idea when you’re at home, too.)
5. Before taking a photo, ask yourself if your photo will do the scene justice or if you’re better off giving yourself over to the full sensory experience of whatever you’re seeing. Fight the urge to let your phone screen come between you and every experience.
6. If you must, designate times when you will allow yourself to indulge in social media; perhaps in the quiet time between sightseeing and dinner. Then, if you want to post photos, be discerning. And remember that posting that photo isn’t the only moment you’re disconnected--every time you check to see who has liked or commented on it, you drag your brain away from the here and now, to the there and then. So post it and forget it.