Statistics show that your typical smartphone owner spends 1.7 hours per day social networking. They check their phones about 46 times per day to Facebook, Tweet, email, text, ignore people and play games. In the U.S., for example, 61 percent of the population owns a smartphone – that was according to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Some call it i-dependency; I call it “digital addiction,” an addiction which for some may be even stronger than the desire for cigarettes or alcohol.
Several weeks ago on my way to Tilloo Cay in the Bahamas, I was sitting in Miami airport sipping on an early a.m. Bloody Mary. I noticed that no less than eight of the nine patrons assembled at the bar were on their smartphones. I was the oddball; I do not even own a smartphone. My wife does, however, and although she is not as addicted as most, she loves her WiFi activity.
In the midst of her Googling, I snatched the Samsung Galaxy from her hand and said, “I challenge you: We are going to spend 10 days on Tilloo Island which has a population of 18 people. We will fish, dive, drink Kalik beer and have a digital detox.
“When we land in the Bahamas, turn the thing off and leave it off for 10 days; can you do it?” It wasn’t an order, it was more of a dare.
She gave me a heinous look. “What about the kids? What if … ?” (They are not kids, they’re adults; they live on their own).
“What about the dogs?” (They’re with the kids who are adults).
“What about the horse?” (She was trying real hard to dodge my challenge).
We were leaving Googleland for the Tip of Tilloo: 22 acres of tranquil, app-free paradise in the far out-islands of the Bahamas.
Suzanne Matthews, the owner of the property, lives there part-time with her dog named Miss Penny. Near her home there is a small rental cottage on top of a breeze-supplied hill that overlooks the Atlantic on one side and the Sea of Abaco on the other. This was our cyber escape for 10 days.
From our lofty porch, the crystal clear seas were a captivating sight as the warm rays of summer sunshine covered the vast shallows to boost an array of greens, blues and aqua. The sunsets from our summit could only be described with one overused trite “breathtaking.” The allure of a crystalline ocean, powder white beaches and balmy ambience can be nothing more than a “been there-done that” for most who live on Grand Cayman, but for myself, the Tip of Tilloo is extraordinary due to its two missing factors: humans and WiFi. Tilloo’s few other residents are isolated several miles south of our cottage. As the sun sets, our hilltop birds-eye view confirms not a mortal in sight. Occasionally there’s some action in the shallows below, as silver jacks torpedo by the dock chasing smaller fish for their dinner. Wild dolphins are also regular visitors to Tilloo.
For a few, a WiFi-free holiday can be inviting. However, studies show that most cannot do it – even for a day. Let’s get to the crux of this story.
According to a new Harris Interactive online survey, studies show that nearly one-third of adults admitted using their smartphone in a movie theater, on a dinner date or in church, and one in 10 even admitted checking in the shower, on the toilet or during sex. More than half – 55 percent, to be exact – admitted they could not put their phone down while driving. Though I could find no survey to confirm how many travelers are on their phone while tanning on Seven Mile Beach or on their way to Stingray City, I am convinced that at least 90 percent of our visitors are high on social media, not rum. I asked a young visitor once how she enjoyed her trip to Stingray City. Before she had a chance to respond, her frustrated grandmother interjected.
“I paid $45 CI for that trip, yet the entire time she was playing games on her smartphone. She never once went into the water.”
I told the young teen that she had missed one of Grand Cayman’s most popular attractions.
“No I didn’t,” she said, “I’ve seen it on YouTube.”
Now, before I sound too hypocritical, I must admit I am a Facebook fan myself. In the wee hours of the morning I sit on my slow-running, near-obsolete PC like some evil comic book villain and dish out sarcasm by making fun of those who post an image of their dinner before and after consumption. Yet, on a faraway island vacation I become hermitic and what few Facebook friends I have left are glad of it. If I were a few decades younger, I’d strongly consider opening a Digital Detox Retreat on the far side of Little Cayman. Such anti-WiFi resorts are becoming popular in Europe; tech-free getaways with no phones, TV, clocks or other electronic distractions, where one can benefit body and soul by connecting with one’s spouse and family rather than a gadget. So the question remains: Did we do it? Were we up to the challenge? I was, because I left my $52 flip phone back in Cayman. As for the wife, I’m not letting that cat out of the bag.
Could you do it? Go without connectivity? On Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, WiFi-free rental homes and cottages are easy to find. In the far out-islands of the Bahamas, even more so. On Tilloo Cay, the owner Mrs. Matthews does get unreliable internet connection in her private home. However, her rental cottage will not accept your texting, Googling, Facebooking or Tweeting. Sounds like paradise to me.