Thingish Things

The Death of the Vacation

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Aug• 14•12

How does one get away from technology now

Does anyone know what an ashram is?

I don’t. Not really anyway. But that’s where I’m going on my next vacation.

I’m told an ashram is a spiritual hermitage, which is all very interesting. But all I need to know is that they don’t allow cellphones or laptops. If no electronics is the firm rule, an ashram is where I’m headed. They had me at hello — or lack thereof — as the line goes.

There’s a great scene in the movie “City Slickers” where a 40-year-old named Phil, in a deeply unhappy marriage, habitually pretends to be asleep whenever his torturous wife is present. A friend, played by the comic Billy Crystal, catches him in the act. “Nice life you’ve carved out for yourself, Phil,” he whispers, as the guy, wineglass in hand, sits upright on a couch with his eyes squeezed shut. “I know you’re not really sleeping,” Phil’s wife needles, as the poor guy struggles to hold his pose.

I have no problem with my wife, but I’m beginning to understand Phil. I think we all may be.

It’s August, the month when Europe virtually shuts down. But everyone I know here in the States is swatting away mobile work calls and emails like clouds of gnats following us wherever we go. And these are the people on vacation. We just can’t get away from our work anymore — anywhere. Except, evidently, at an ashram.

Modern conveniences are asphyxiating us with real-time communication. We are being waterboarded by ones and zeros, not just at our desks anymore, but everywhere we live and breathe. As hard as we try, we cannot come up for air.

A depressing study came out last month putting hard numbers on this phenomenon. According to Good Technology, 80 percent of Americans now bring work outside of the office for an average of seven extra work hours per week.

I find that startling. How are the 20 percent pulling it off?

Half of Americans now check their work email in bed, and 40 percent are still working after 10 p.m., according to the study. Thirty-eight percent, me included, check email during dinner.

My grandmothers would be appalled. I used to have table manners.

Harris Interactive released a poll in 2011 revealing that only 40 percent of us planned to take time off last summer. Of those, 46 percent worked during vacation. The percentage working on holiday will reach 52 percent this summer, according to Harris’ 2012 survey.

I feel truly sorry for young people today — this must seem normal to them. They will never know a life of inaccessibility, of moments of utter personal freedom. To those of us who remember it, life was so different when we weren’t always on call. Wasn’t it just yesterday, in the years before answering machines, where calling someone’s home after 8 p.m. was considered rude, and when you could head to a phoneless beach town and actually not be reached for a week? What was once taken for granted sounds like Nirvana now.

The digital pace of modern life cannot be healthy. One can feel it reworking the circuitry in the brain — and not in a good way. But how do you get away from it now that the mobile technology genie is out of the bottle, if only for a day or two?

An ashram. That’s how.

I can think of no other way.

I am a coffe-guzzing carnivore who wouldn’t know a yoga position from a frozen yogurt pop. But I will go to any length — I will do anything — to, poof, disappear for a few days.

So if you email me in November, this will be my vacation reply: Please Note: I am 100% inaccessible from xx to xx. I am unable to receive telephones calls, emails or any other form of communication. If you absolutely must reach me, please try Zen meditation. I am at a spiritual hermitage.

Somewhere Phil is beaming.

This column is available at Newsday.  Thanks for reading!

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One Comment

  1. Your Friend says:

    I absolutely love this piece, Billy (and if you would just go back to calling yourself Billy you wouldn’t have to struggle so hard to maintain your real name).

    Really sorry about Paul Ryan. I thought you guys maybe had a chance before that. I was hoping for Tim Pawlenty, a decent and somewhat moderate man. Ryan is worse than Palin. Your best bet at this point is the voter suppresion stuff going on in PA and other swing states.

    And, if you ever need a historical reminder of how great Obama has been as a president, this Slate article and the book its about are a good starting point. Forty years from now, ARPA-E will be regarded as the greatest use of Federal money and power in the first half of this century.

    Hope you enjoy the ashram.


    – d

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