Many of us, when we go on vacation, move our bodies from place to place, but our attention remains as attached as ever to the devices that connect us to our social networks, news, email, and work-related online resources. We become traveling digital ghosts, much like the walking ghosts who are so absorbed by their smartphones that they stroll straight into traffic accidents. Digital ghosts can be everywhere in what we used to call cyberspace, but they are really nowhere in conventional reality. Or at least, they’re not aware of being in the older world. They may have lots of digital fun, but find it hard to relax. Vacation stresses them out, because the risk of being disconnected from digital life is much higher than when one is at work and in high-bandwidth environments. They return fatigued and grouchy, but quickly forget about this when they are once again completely connected and distracted. After years of this, the mind crumbles, the body screams for relief, the family moves on, and the dog goes for a lonely walk.
Help is on the way, however. In the next few years, hotels, resorts, timeshares, and travel agencies will offer a new type of travel. It’s a little like joining a nudist camp, only digitally. Your vacation service provider (VSP) will make it possible for you to take a complete break from your demanding digital life—and nobody will need to know! To your followers and all the world online, you will be as clever and connected as always. Maybe even more so. If your VSP’s digital concierge knows what she’s doing, she will keep up your Twitter stream, Facebook updates, LinkedIn status, photo and video shares, and other online presences with the brilliance you wish you could maintain all the time.
If you want to go a step further, you can park your smartphone, laptop, and other devices with your VSP for baby-sitting while you enjoy time off in the old world. Of course, the VSP will contact you if there’s an emergency, unless you paid her not to do so. If you are miserable in digital withdrawal, you can book a session with the concierge to review your postings and get the highlights of what’s new with your followers and friends. If you lose your job during your vacation and your boss tells you so through email or a Facebook message, you can at your discretion rely on the concierge to keep this news hidden from you until your non-digital off-time is over.
Bed-and-breakfast places will offer their own, homespun and charming versions of disconnected vacationing. Your children will be able to go to special offline summer camps. Once the business and civic leaders in the areas tourists flock to understand how much revenue the spending from VSPs and their out-of-touch guests can generate, they will do what they can to support the business. You can expect entire districts of Rome, Paris, or Barcelona to go non-digital for entire weekends during tourist season to enhance their visitors’ experiences.
Some of us feel shy to admit our desire for disconnection. Others are already signing off at times. Monasteries are leading the way for VSPs by offering retreats where you can take a break from the digital avalanche of your day-to-day life. The Monastery of Christ in the Desert (which, years ago, thrilled the world with one of the coolest and most beautiful websites ever) will gladly welcome you. So would Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon. At the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge, you can even stay close to an urban environment. The level of tolerance and generosity in these places is very high—you don’t have to be a believer. Other monastic and faith communities are no doubt offering similar opportunities and will increase their capacity soon. They should really patent and copyright their offerings today, before VSPs catch on.
In the beginning, VSPs will be able to charge a premium for taking their guests’ lives offline. If you’re interested, you should get into this line of service right now. Eventually, digital ghosts from all walks of life will be able to disconnect a least for a few days. But don’t worry, some travelers will always pay for valuable services, such as a complete mental download of all the memories of an exciting trip—without having to go anywhere at all. That, too, is coming.