Switching off

8 August 2018

A friend of ours has just returned from a pretty bad holiday. This year he (and his family) eschewed a private villa or gite in favour of a smart, all inclusive European hotel.

Located in a quiet part of Spain, the hotel had all mod-cons on site; 4 swimming pools, various places to eat and plenty of ‘free’ activities (for those who felt the overwhelming urge to master archery, pistol shooting etc…).

A bad holiday experience or two

Anyway, what stuck him most was the proliferation of electronic devices that guests felt compelled to use around the pools and in the restaurants. The behaviour wasn’t confined to a particular age group or nationality. This was an hotel being used by Spanish, French, German, American and British guests.

Now what’s so bad about checking emails or responding to texts while on holiday you may well ask. This can be done quietly and with little impact to people in the near vicinity. Sharing holiday pictures on social platforms also falls into this category, (although my friend didn’t take too kindly to someone swimming around him in the pool as they took underwater pictures on their phone).

Bad holiday

All is quiet, but the hotel’s pool is closed

No, it wasn’t this type of behaviour that made my friend long for the peace and quiet of somewhere private. Aside from the compulsion many of the hotel guests had to making and receiving telephone calls, (usually in a loud voice and without getting up from their lounger to go somewhere more private) things had certainly gone up an electronic notch or two since his last decent length overseas hotel stay.

For one thing, very few people felt (and this was adults and children) that they should use earphones when listening to music, watching a programme or playing a game on their phone or tablet. You are sat in a beautiful part of the world, your family has been craving time together, so why oh why (says my friend) would you take pleasure in your child being glued to a film which they are viewing on their tablet while under a towel? Said towel is on a lounger by a lovely pool which has gorgeous views of the Spanish coast.

By this stage the tales he was regaling about his bad holiday were going up on his ‘anti-social’ scale. He went on. My family and I were having a quiet post dinner drink in an outside bar when another family felt that it was only right to conduct an incredibly loud Skype conversation with friends back home. This conversation really was of the mobile variety as the ‘Skypers’ in question wandered through the tables showing all the different seating areas, the bar, the pools, the sun loungers, their drinks, other people’s drinks etc, etc. Apparently the conversation wasn’t a brief or quiet one and involved a party of 5.

Is the art of conversation dead?

Depressingly, meal times were no better. My friend witnessed parents ignoring their children as they scanned their mobile phones, parents choosing to connect their children to a mobile device (instead of interacting with them) and whole families glued to their various screens. It seemed that they were completely oblivious to one another and their surroundings.

Phones and tablets seem to have almost become an extension of us. My friend continued. People bemoan their work / life balance and many state that they would love to spend more time with their families. Why then, (he was building up quite a head of steam by now) do the vast majority choose to ignore each other when they go on holiday together?! This need to constantly keep in touch, this compulsion to show others what a great time you are having, the selfishness (or ignorance) that your behaviour has on those around you. Surely it isn’t right, but in today’s world it seems the norm.

Setting a bad example

My friend was now looking around for a soapbox to stand on. If we, as parents, normalise the behaviour of ignoring one another at say, breakfast, what hope do children have? It was time for my friend to dust off some of his hastily compiled research. Did you know that there is now a phenomenon called “technoference”? asked my friend rhetorically. It refers to the disrupted interactions technology has between say, a parent and their child. Oh and another thing he added, the BBC recently carried a report on how children hate their parents constantly using their mobile phone.

He returned back to the subject of his holiday. On his last evening, (and just when he believed that he had reached the nadir of anti-social mobile use) he was using a toilet by the hotel’s main bar when in walked a man who was holding an animated conversation on his mobile phone. Without pausing for breath this man tucks the phone under his chin and continues to talk while using the urinal. Is this normal and acceptable behaviour? asked my friend. Was that really a life or death call?

My friend is not a technophobe. He understands that the internet and mobile devices offer an infinite range of possibilities and benefits. It’s just that when he and his family take a break from work they also enjoy breaking with routine. That means locking mobile phones in a safety deposit box and properly switching off. That can be pretty hard to do when everyone around has the opposite idea.

Bad holiday

The quiet Dordogne countryside

Most of the Dordogne is still very rural and unspoilt. It’s peace and tranquillity are what attracted us here in the first place. Indeed, it could be argued that large swathes of the Dordogne seem to have changed little in hundreds of years. As for my friend, he says that he has learned a valuable lesson. He is determined not to waste his hard-earned money on another bad holiday. I’m expecting him to book a week or two with us in 2019!