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May 08, 2009

Why We Need Vacations Now More Than Ever

Photo: SMN on Flickr
using Creative Commons

by Sara Tucker

An article about "the science of paying attention" by columnist John Tierney was one of the New York Times' most e-mailed stories this week. What does this tell us? That the subject struck a chord with so many readers suggests what a frazzled nation we are (duh), raising the question: How many e-mailers do you suppose read the entire piece before sending it to a friend (and how many of the recipients cursed the senders for adding to their in-box bulge)? Those readers who managed to stay on task for more than a few paragraphs would have learned that it can take the brain 20 minutes to "reboot" after an interruption and that multitasking is a myth. Another tidbit: The typical human brain "can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime."

Not that this is news. "The brain can toggle back and forth pretty well, but it simply cannot concentrate on two things at one time," wrote Data Smog author David Shenk in Slate almost two years ago (in the months since the article posted, the typical brain has processed 5 billion additional bits of information). "So, the more quantity we try to manage, at increasing speeds, the more quality we find ourselves trading away."

What's more, "finding places where one can be properly disconnected is becoming increasingly difficult" in our wired world, reports the Telegraph. "Earlier this year a British man, Rod Baber, became the first to make a call on his mobile from the top of Everest."

Tierney (scribe of the above-mentioned most e-mailed column) speaks for a whelmed populace when he asks, "Is there any realistic refuge anymore from the Age of Distraction?"

PC Mag editor Lance Ulanoff was trying to focus--on his family and his surroundings, specifically--when he unplugged for a low-tech vacation. The result: panic attacks. "It wasn't until the anxiety attacks and cold sweats stopped that I understood I was going through digital detox," Ulanoff wrote in a tell-all post. "I honestly didn't know how to function without instant access to a world of information."

Well, it's hard when you're dealing with a succubus. "Studies show that most Americans don't allow their vacations to get between them and their e-mail," reports Forbes Traveler. "According to research, an estimated 83 percent of us check it at least twice a day while on vacation. And now that many of the most remote locales from Nepal to Mongolia to Tanzania offer some sort of connectivity, it's hard to escape your inbox."

"We all now feel that we need to be connected everywhere we go," psychology professor Cary Cooper told the Telegraph. "There is more job insecurity than ever before and mobiles make us feel important and wanted. But . . . people need to take holidays and have a break."

Ulanoff stuck with it (he had to--he was on a cruise), and after a few days he noticed a change. "I started to take in my surroundings. My family looked upon me as a welcome acquaintance whom they hadn't seen in a very long time."

To help guests like Ulanoff disconnect, more and more hotel getaways are choosing to stay unwired. Where are these oases of calm? All over the world. For specifics, check out the following list. If you've read this far, it's your reward.

Further reading:
* 10 unplugged vacations (ForbesTraveler, June 2008)
* Mobile-free holidays: Destinations that offer no phone reception whatsoever (Telegraph, October 2007)
* Cell phone-free vacation spots across the USA (USAToday, May 2007)
* In a slump, camping comes into vogue (CNN, April 2009)


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