Vacations and Smartphone Addiction

Posted: 7/27/2012

Posted July 27, 2012

On vacation, Annabel Fernandez watched incredulously as her husband splashed in the pool of a beachfront resort with their twin daughters. Between the giggling and water play, she saw him glancing at his iPhone on the pool's ledge. The night before, she had caught him checking email on his smartphone under the table at dinner.

"I started realizing it was an addiction," she said. "I felt like we were losing him to a screen."

As the number of smartphone users rises, so does the level of anxiety and friction around using them. Downsizing and economic realities have left workers with a real fear of what might happen if they are out of touch too long. Will the client go elsewhere? Will the boss find a new protege? The fear has turned into a compulsion that has workers tethered to their mobile phones - even when they're supposed to be off the clock.

But for the spouse, partner, friend, or travel companion of a smartphone addict, the fear can ruin a vacation, a night out or, worse, a relationship.

"When you're on the phone you're ignoring the person you are traveling with; that creates resentment," said Kimberly Young, a psychologist and director of Center for Internet Addiction Recovery.

The digitally hooked often overlook the toll on their companions. Married to an attorney, Bob Greene says it completely unnerves him to watch his wife's reaction to an incoming work-related email. "We're supposed to be on vacation relaxing, and I can see that something at the office didn't go her way. It not only stresses her out; it stressed me out, too."

While smartphone addiction has been difficult to track, in a survey by mobile-services provider iPass, 91 percent of mobile users said they use their free time, both day and night, to check their smartphones. Among those, almost 30 percent check their smartphones three to five times an hour, and 20 percent check them five to 10 times an hour. Young calls anxiety around constant connectivity "a chronic and universal problem."

Travel companions say the problem often comes to a head on vacation or during leisure activity when the goal is to reconnect and their partner sends the message that business is a priority. Companions say they find themselves torn between bringing the smartphone user into the present and coming across as a nag.

Miami marketing strategist Michelle Villalobos says the only way to travel with a smartphone addict is to establish the rules upfront, before the loaded minivan leaves the driveway.

"If you wait until you're in the moment, you find yourself in the situation where the other person is looking at you like, 'Who are you, the cellphone police?' "



When traveling, she and her boyfriend not only set the time when they will check in with work, they also set the place - for example, only in the hotel room in the early morning hours.

Making the rules together and negotiating is key. Some people really do need to be accessible and forcing them to disconnect could create business challenges, Young said. "You may need to accept a middle ground, and instead of setting overall vacation rules, set daily rules based on what everyone needs."

Jodi Stoner, a Miami Beach clinical psychologist and co-author of "Good Manners Are Contagious," says the first step may be getting your travel partner to see the problem. She suggests this approach: "Our hope is to take vacations to connect and when you're on your phone we don't feel important or connected to you."

Then, she advises letting the other person come up with a solution. "It might even be to start by shutting off for an hour."

By her own admission, publicist Julie Talenfeld, founder of Boardroom Communications in Plantation, Fla., is a smartphone addict, calling it part work, part fun.

"I know I'm an addict but I'm always looking at breaking news and getting story ideas to pitch," Talenfeld said. "I feel like if I don't look, I might miss something."

Her husband, attorney Howard Talenfeld, says he's even gone as far as hiding her iPhone when they're on vacation. But he believes his wife gets enjoyment from her phone usage, and that makes it easier for him to cope. For him, being plugged into the office on vacation means he's dealing with legal pleadings or court orders that demand a response.

The couple say they're working to confine wireless-gadget use to morning hours. Beyond that, Howard Talenfeld says he has carefully chosen to vacation in the mountains, where cellphone reception is less accessible.

Mary Harris fields workplace concerns as senior vice president of marketing and public relations with BankUnited and a certified etiquette consultant. Harris says most people - even spouses - understand that workplace emergencies crop up but there are ways to handle it.

"If you've dedicated time to vacation or a lunch, you should commit to that time. If you have to take a call or check for a certain email, apologize up front and only take that call," she said.

She believes our addiction to checking our wireless gadgets while in the company of others has become a habit. "Some people don't even realize they are doing it."

Harris believes even high-level executives need to accept being inaccessible and having someone else who can pitch in while on vacation. It's good for your business brand, she said: "You're that person who someone can't have a conversation with or vacation with because you're obsessed with your phone. At the end of day, we all have limited free time, and people are going to make decisions about whether to hang out with you."

ABOUT THE WRITER

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegal@gmail.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.

©2012 The Miami Herald Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.
 
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