COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Travelers who pack digital gadgets miss out on vacation

When I travel, I leave all the IT connections and digital gadgets at home. The only exception is the charger for my cellphone that I keep in the car for emergency use.

Why don’t I call home daily, check e-mail and Facebook or any other form of contact with my home base? I go away to get away from the constant barrage of social media, telemarketing and other people’s problems. I leave all of that at home.

In contrast, Daily Transcript columnist Phil Baker packs a suitcase full of digital gadgets to take on vacation. Vacation? Isn’t that a period of time to do something different in a different place, to get away?

The Oxford dictionary defines vacation as “a time of rest or recreation spent away from home or in traveling, during which regular activities are suspended.” That’s the way I like to vacation.

I will excuse Mr. Baker of dragging along six communication devices, “To make our vacation run smoothly,” he wrote. After all, it is his business as a technology journalist to test new equipment. Among his gadgets were a MacBook, iPad, a Verizon iPhone and T-Mobile HTC One. Why two phones? To test which one works better in specific foreign regions.

I travel with friends who are not into technology assessment. However, they cannot cut their umbilical cord to home. In picturesque rural areas of Europe or Canada, if the charming B&B on the mountain or in the valley doesn’t have Wi-Fi, panic sets in. Even worse are the dead areas for cellphones. My friends simply can’t let go of the home base. I think the isolation and disconnect is wonderful — my vacation.

One of Mr. Baker’s disappointments on his gadget-testing vacation was occasional misleading GPS directions. I know those addicted to GPS — I have some in my family — think it is the only way to get to your destination. Well, there’s nothing wrong with road maps. I have used them successfully in extensive travel throughout Europe, even in the old Iron Curtain days.

Some of Mr. Baker’s misguided GPS directions came from Google Maps when he was sent to the wrong chateau or it often couldn’t identify where he was when he got lost. Road maps, despite their clumsy handling when not folded properly, can be very helpful finding an obscure village or short cut without the aid of a digital device.

By ignoring the flaws of digital gadgets, the adventure or relaxation of a vacation can be enjoyed if the traveler leaves the excess baggage at home and travels light. My early exploration years were enhanced by casual travel with a backpack. This is especially convenient when jumping off trains, rural buses and cable cars. It’s amazing how journeys can be comfortable with little gear to pack and unpack.

When I witness tourists juggling three large suitcases for a weekend, I wonder why they want to take their home with them. I guess it is the same mindset that draws a traveler to the iPhone, iPad or whatever when on the road, air or sea. They must be very happy that a communication stream is available on airlines so they are not forced to read or sleep.

A recent long flight across the country with a plane change was a refresher on how many passengers are wired to their devices. Most of those observed in nearby seats were playing video games, a few were attending to business matters on their way to a meeting and others had their iPad hooked into the in-flight videos. I just read or napped to try to overcome jet lag.

Turning to a more serious consequence of being “over wired” to the Internet and its offspring programs, a recent report in Addictive Behavior journal revealed psychological brain damage caused by constant connection. The complete dependence on Google Glass by a combat veteran believed to be addicted to alcohol turned out to be Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)

After discarding alcohol as the cause of the patient’s trauma, the rehabilitation center staff discovered the victim wore a Google Glass 24/7, having his brain beaten with a rush of dopamine that made him feel good as long as the data transmitted is exciting. A U.S. Navy addiction psychologist confirmed that the brain needs a rest between the highs.

The symptoms of IAD are loss of short-term memory, irritable conduct and avoidance of eye contact. This veteran declared it was more difficult to shake Internet addiction than alcoholism. The report was quick to report that the Google Glass device was not the cause of IAD, merely the conduit.

No doubt there will be more harmful effects from Internet addiction to emerge. Watching young teens and millennials thumb away at their iPhones and swiping their iPads without any live conversation will have an impact on their networking skills, getting a job or just having a fulfilling social relationship.


Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com

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