Are you connected?

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Palma de Mallorca, the death of the family 

By Ronnie Smith 

Something much more important than politics this week. 

I’ve been on holiday in Palma de Mallorca. It’s much simpler and quicker to fly there from Montpellier airport than used to be the case when I travelled from Glasgow; 50 minutes from a quiet airport is much better than over 2 hours from the raging insanity of any UK airport during the holiday season.

I’ve not been to Mallorca for around 20 years and there have been many changes in that time. All of the holiday resorts have expanded, of course, and even the once peaceful, spacious beaches in the north of the island now resemble heaving seal colonies as holiday makers struggle for every inch of space. Every little town with a port hosts a marina where summer sailors charter the yacht of their dreams and sail the Med. with their friends or captive families. Forests of masts stretch out into the bays and coves around Mallorca where once there was only clear blue water teeming with fish. Even the once tranquil Puerto Pollensa now looks like Monaco.

I’m not complaining. I still like Mallorca and Palma de Mallorca is a very lively and interesting town with some excellent restaurants and a lot of good shops including a branch of the wonderful El Corte Ingles. 

Sometime last year, Languedoc Living were kind enough to publish a piece I had written on the effects of the internet and social media on our social and professional lives. I can make no apology for returning to the subject because my experience during the last week, on holiday surrounded by other carbon-based life forms at leisure, has led me to believe that we are in the process of killing ‘normal’ family life once and for all. That has become the most important change in Mallorca since my last visit. 

Maybe I’m getting old and am simply failing to keep up with the rapid pace of social change around me. However, I think it is wrong for two parents and their teenage daughter to sit in a very pleasant restaurant, in the centre of a delightful city that must be new to them and engage in absolutely no conversation whatsoever for one and a half hours. Instead they looked and tapped away at their iPhones (7s, I think) the entire time they were seated. Remember when family meals used to be sacred, the only time we were all together and could share our day (good and bad) and talk to each other properly? 

I think it is wrong for a clearly distressed infant, screaming and red-faced in his go-chair (or whatever these monstrous all-terrain comfort buggies are called today) at the Marineland dolphin show, to simply be given a Samsung phablet to keep him amused and shut him up while his parents watch the show. Remember when we would take our small kids onto our knee to calm them down, reassure them and get them to focus on the miracle of dolphins and sea lions doing their tricks for us?

I think it is wrong for people to go on a bus trip or a cruise around an island, that they may never visit again, to see only what is on the small screen that they hold in front of them. Remember when we used to marvel at unfamiliar landscapes and actually see where we were going instead of being told where we are by Google Maps? Remember when we used to look for unusual animals and birds, on land and at sea, when we were lucky enough to be abroad, and to share these rare sightings with our family and friends? Now we take selfies and spend many mindless hours looking at ourselves.

I think it is wrong for two young children to be ignored by their parents at lunchtime; one five-year-old staring at his screen and one, not yet able to walk or hold a phone, left to roll around the cafe floor (like a demented bear at a zoo) while mum and dad share their facebook experiences. I think a family visit to the Rafa Nadal museum in the great man’s hometown of Manacor should be better than that, for everyone, don’t you?

We are happily sold the idea that we can stay ‘connected’ for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Even when we are away on holiday we can still ‘connect’ with whoever we want whenever we want. This means that we no longer need to send postcards, a God send in my case. It also means that we do not need to be with the people we are actually physically with at any moment because we can continue to be with (‘connect’ with) other people no matter where they are. 

We don’t need to be with our spouses, partners or our kids as they sit across the table from us at a restaurant or beside us on a bus. Instead we can continue to ‘connect’ with other friends, family and business associates and never talk to our families at all. We can choose to maintain our virtual ‘connections’ while slowly destroying the most important relationships right in front of us. And we can ensure that the next generation, our ignored children, will continue to behave in exactly the same way. 

A phone screen is two dimensions while a real human being, a person that we are with through choice, is at least three but we as a species seem to be losing the capacity to build and maintain complex empathetic relationships. So I think it would be a good idea if we could all leave our phones at home or in the hotel room at least when we go out with our families. 

In our strange new world ‘connected’ actually means disconnected and alone.