Family Vacations: A Time to Unplug from the Digital World

August 17th, 2017

As I approach the half century mark, I find myself appreciating family vacations more than ever before. With my older son starting his junior year of college, and my younger son a rising freshman in college, I realize that family vacations will become harder to schedule. Spending time with my family, away from our daily routines at home, is precious and cannot be replaced.

Last week, we went on an Alaskan cruise. The cruise liner did not provide internet access unless passengers paid for it separately. My wife and I chose not to pay for access, and I quickly realized how precious family vacation has become. Snapchat and Instagram usage were replaced with dancing (yes dancing), shuffleboard and real conversations. Surfing the internet was replaced with dog sledding and repelling a 70 foot rock wall.

Before I go on about social media and smart phones, I want to share my repelling experience. I consider myself somewhat active. I like to hike with my wife and regularly workout on our elliptical machine. Before repelling, we went rock climbing. Let me rephrase that more accurately – my wife and kids went rock climbing. I made it 4 feet up before losing my footing, swinging into the rocks and bruising my elbow.  There is nothing more humbling than having a 25 year old woman lowering you down 4 feet off of a 70 foot rock wall. Onto repelling. We hiked up the side of a mountain to the top of the 70 foot rock wall. Once there, two expert rock climbers latched themselves to the wall and talked us through repelling.  I have never repelled before and had no clue what was ahead of me.

If pictures tell a thousand words…

Shout out to Alaska Mountain Guides Raychill, Isaac and Tyler. These are well educated young adults who finished their studies or left lucrative desk jobs to find their own meaning of life. They literally talked me off the ledge.

Now I must confess. As part of my travel package, I got 250 minutes of internet service. I am an early bird so I used this time to check emails and keep up with the news while my family slept in. Except for taking pictures, I did not use my phone any other time on the cruise, which was very refreshing. One morning while I was online, I read a well-timed New York Times article entitled, “Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens.” Claudia Dreifus transcribed a conversation she had with social psychologist Adam Alter about his new book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” Alter warns that many children, teenagers, adults and the elderly are addicted to modern digital products. Not figuratively, but literally addicted.

He explains:

In the past, we thought of addiction as mostly related to chemical substances: heroin, cocaine, nicotine. Today, we have this phenomenon of behavioral addictions where, one tech industry leader told me, people are spending nearly three hours a day tethered to their cellphones. Where teenage boys sometimes spend weeks alone in their rooms playing video games. Where Snapchat will boast that its youthful users open their app more than 18 times a day.

I fear that my kids and their friends are addicted to their smartphones and social media.

According to the research platform dscout, the heaviest smartphone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day, while the rest of us touch our addictive devices 2,617 times a day, on average. That level of connection is wreaking havoc on our ability to focus on tasks that require more concentration than it takes to post a status update.

Are you addicted to your smartphone or social media? Here are two simple tests to determine if you may have a problem. First, this weekend see if you can go an entire day without checking emails, text messages or social media. Real phone conversations are fine. If you find yourself sweating and shaking uncontrollably, you are an addict. The second test requires no effort. If you charge your phone next to your bed so you can check into Facebook or respond to emails before going to sleep and when you wake up, you are an addict.

Did you take a trip with your family this summer? Were you able to pull yourself away from the internet? Did you do something exhilarating like repelling? Send an email to or post a comment here.


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