May 25, 2011



For four days, I really, really tried to switch off from my usual wired world as I went on a short vacation in Boracay last week. (It was a sort of post-Mother’s Day break Big Sister and I hatched up for Mama.)

The night before we left, I switched on the vacation response settings in all my e-mail accounts. I had informed most of my bosses I’d be away, had advanced a column and some news stories, but you know how it is. There could be some last-minute questions or requests made, though I was pretty sure if it was anything really urgent, the bosses would know how to reach me. Otherwise, all the e-mails could wait.

I also did not bring my MacBook. I know for some people, especially in my line of work, the computer is as vital as, well, our underwear. It’s part of our everyday wardrobe. I have friends who don’t leave home without their iPad, their MacBook Air and a Kindle!

But I thought bringing the Mac would just defeat the purpose of being on vacation. I usually don’t even watch the news on TV when I’m on a holiday, just to forget for even a teensy-weensy moment that there’s mayhem ongoing in the world. There’s nothing like a vacation killer than thinking of, for instance, the incredulous and irrational arguments against the reproductive-health bill while I’m sipping my mango shake and splayed out under the sun. (For a while there I was worried I would take so many photos of our vacation, space would eventually run out on my digicam’s memory card. Not having my Mac with me would mean I couldn’t transfer my photos and refresh the camera’s memory card.)

The entire time, I used only one cell phone with my personal number, which I needed to communicate with Big Sister as we were riding separate airlines. It was also a way for us to find each other in case we’d be going on separate walks while on the island. But usually, I’d just leave the phone in my bag, so I wouldn’t be bothered by text messages nor phone calls. For quite a few years already, I’ve kept the alert on my incoming text messages switched off even in Manila. So using just one phone and not checking messages wasn’t really such a big adjustment for me.

I had the vacation all planned out. I would lie on the beach or lounge by the pool just reading a book. There was this one book I had been meaning to finish since I bought it—gasp!—in 2005. It was a collection of short stories by various well-acclaimed writers (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Günter Grass, Arthur Miller, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, etc.) edited by Nadine Gordimer, called Telling Tales, which was published in 2004. And it’s been on my bedside table since I bought it—just waiting to be picked up again and read. (There are four other books on my night table, in the same state of unfinished reading. Sigh.)

But as is the usual, the best laid plans always come unhinged. The bad habits will always stomp all over my good intentions.

While I did manage to finish a few short stories while I was lying in bed—not by the pool—I wasn’t able to quite get off the Internet.

I’ve been a Facebook and Twitter user for quite some time. Although I’ve managed to unplug during Sundays, even switching off my phones, I knew four days away from the social-networking sites while on vacation would be trying. Of course, I was able to go offline during the last Holy Weekend and the years before that, going online again only on Easter Monday. But being good while Jesus was dead was a powerful incentive; a vacation, not so.

So, yes, I eventually cheated. My commitment to get off cyberspace while on vacation was broken. I posted one vacation photo on Facebook, and a couple of status updates from my phone. Yes, I’m an addict and an oversharer. I should be locked up in the basement of Makati Med.

(It was easier to stay away from Twitter though, since I usually use it to monitor breaking news. But, well, Big Sister and Mama are news junkies so I had virtually little choice when it came to channels to watch at 6:30 pm or 12 midnight when we were back in our room at the resort.)

Then when I got word that our Seair flight back to Manila had been moved to an earlier schedule—thank God!—I had to use the resort’s business center and print the new e-ticket sent to my e-mail account. Needless to say, I caved in and started checking all my e-mail, then some interesting news items, and then...hay naku! It took a lot of willpower on my end to quit the session; but it was a good 10 minutes to 15 minutes before I got back to my senses and remembered that I was on vacation. I guess I had just been longing too much for the simplicity of a bygone age when all that we actually brought on vacation was just a book and a bathing suit. There were no distractions at all. In Boracay, especially in the ’80s, it was just the sun, the sea and the sand that made everyone’s vacation a blast.

Nowadays we can’t travel anywhere without our cell phones, our laptops, the cable TV—technology is everywhere these days that it’s really quite easy to just switch on, go online, and reengage with the rest of the world. Even cell-phone manufacturers now promote handsets that are Wi-Fi-ready, or HDSPA-equipped, you don’t even need to bring a laptop anymore. You can do everything on your cell phone!

And I’d be hard-pressed to think of any island resort in the country or any part of the world for that matter that is so isolated that technology hasn’t reached it yet. And even if such island existed, I’m sure I’d be online anyway making reservations to fly to it and book a room.

Maybe next time, I shouldn’t try so hard to be offline. Technology is part of who we are, it’s really useless to fight it, even while on vacation. Most hotels and resorts now offer free Wi-Fi and even the free use of computers in their business centers. Even these establishments know that offering such kinds of free services is a big come-on to guests.

When it comes to technology, resistance is futile.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on May 20, 2011. Photos courtesy Discovery Shores Boracay.)

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