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Procrastination, Addiction, and Short Attention Spans

Are we so reliant on external stimulation that we are addicted to distraction? Would a holiday away from the internet sound attractive, or scary?
Several years ago I opened a fee free credit card that earned frequent flyer miles for every purchase. At the time the marketing spiel offered “free” companion flights if the card holder spent over a certain threshold in a given year.

Sound good? Like many things in life, the devil proved to be in the details. “Free” meant the airline part, taxes and surcharges still applied. Nothing particularly controversial there.

The companion ticket could only be used if the cardholder was also travelling on the flight. No big deal, the clue is in the name “companion”. Otherwise they would call it something like the “banish the mother-in-law” flight or the “fun holidays without you” flight.

the “banish the mother-in-law” flight or the “fun holidays without you” flight.
Where things became significantly less attractive was the condition that the companion flight could only be used when the cardholder is travelling on a full fare ticket. To put that in context a discount fare from London to Sydney could be had for around £600. The full fare price for the same seat on the same flight was more like £1,800. Ouch!

Live life or procrastinate
Frank Winkler's picture has almost nothing to do with this post, but it is worth sharing. 
The good news was I hadn’t taken out the card to get companion fares. The airline in question allowed bookings to be made in points and the difference in cash. It was one of the few airlines to offer a routing via Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is one of my favourite places.

Time passed.

Kids happened.

The attractiveness of faraway locales was reduced somewhat by the prospect of sitting next to a bored toddler for the duration of a long haul flight. Strangely they never feature that side of travelling in the family holiday brochures!

At some point the airline stopped flying to Australia. Had I been paying attention I might have been disappointed that my original cunning plan for cheap/discounted travel back to visit friends and family was in tatters.

But I hadn’t been paying attention, rather I’d been mindlessly living my life while accumulating vast sums of frequent flyer miles on the rewards card.

When I logged onto the airline’s frequent flyer programme website for the first time in several years it cheerfully greeted me with the message that I had enough points for 4 “free” return trips to the Caribbean. Yay for me!

This was a grand idea, in theory.

The thrill of the chase

However in practice anyone who has ever attempted to book multiple reward seats on the same flight to a popular destination during school holidays can tell you that it is not without challenges.

I searched. And searched. And searched some more.

There was no availability in the next school holidays. Or the one after.

I called up the airline customer service line and waited on hold.

Some years later a helpful lady answered the phone and cheerfully told me there was virtually no chance of getting multiple frequent flyer seats during peak times, and that I should have a nice day.

It has been said that at times I can be stubborn and disagreeable. Personally I see these traits as super powers, much like persistence and perseverance only with more swearing and sheer bloody minded determination to win.

like persistence and perseverance only with more swearing and sheer bloody minded determination to win
Before long I had booked 4 (count them, 4!) “free” frequent flyer flights to Cuba during a distant school holidays. Hooray for free flights! Then I had to pay the £600 taxes and surcharges. Sigh.

Free flights to Cuba

I performed a victory dance.

My elder son wanted to call an ambulance, concerned that I was possibly having some form of seizure.

My younger son declared that if I danced like that they would never let me join the Wiggles.

My lady wife threatened to post a video of my unique Dad dancing moves on youtube, declaring it would go viral... although apparently that isn’t a good thing.

Everyone is a critic!

Be careful what you wish for

I told my family of our holiday plans, and their reactions were a tad underwhelming.

My (then) 9 year old asked whether they had television and internet there. I said they probably did not, but that it would be fun to escape all of that to play in the pool and build sandcastles on the beach. He looked at me like I had been dropped on my head as a small child, and was now lacking some higher brain functions.

My (then) 3 year old was initially excited, then stopped and asked if they would have his favourite foods there. This isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds, many 3 year olds have a very finite range of meals they will actually eat… and it is a reasonably safe bet that no hotel or restaurant would serve exactly the same thing as they get at home. I said probably not. He crossed his arms, scowled, stamped his foot, and declared he wouldn’t go.

My lady wife did a quick poke around Tripadvisor, and saw that there was unlikely to be wifi, or air conditioning, or diet coke, or shopping. It would be a mild understatement to say she was not overjoyed at the prospect.

After the initial tepid response I didn’t have the heart to tell them we were staying at an all-inclusive resort.

In the same room.

Together.

All that after a 10 hour flight to get there, followed by a 2+ hour taxi ride from the airport with two kids prone to car sickness.

What could possibly go wrong?

Are we addicted to distraction?

That all got me to thinking.

How have we gotten to the point where the prospect of a week spent on a nice warm beach in the sunshine, away from the sub-zero temperatures of wintery London, is a bad thing?

Are we so addicted to social media, Amazon Prime, and computer games that a week away is actually an inconvenience?

Are we so addicted to distraction that a holiday is actually an inconvenience?

There seemed to be a visceral fear of boredom. If there is no television or smart phones how can we possibly entertain ourselves for a whole week? I see that every weekend at the local parks, where all the Weekend Dads are glued to their smartphone screens while their offspring are playing.

If we are in fact spending all our free time, quite possibly some of our time on the job also, being stimulated or distracted by Facebook newsfeeds, the latest Twitter outrage, lurking on forums, or reading personal finance blogs then aren’t we just procrastinating from actually living our lives?

Or, perhaps more troublingly, is that what life has actually become?

So what?

I could be brave, throw us collectively into the Cuba experience, leave the iPads at home, and take my chances. It might ever end up being the best holiday ever.

Or it could rain for the whole week, and see us cooped up in an increasingly confining hotel room. Things could very quickly venture into Lord of the Flies territory!

5 comments :

weenie said...

On a family holiday last year, my niece and nephews (ages 7-9) were told beforehand there would be no tablets/ipads for them during the week-long trip. They kept themselves amused playing cards (Uno), board games, reading and just playing outside. Their parents also asked them to draw/write about their experiences daily in 'holiday diaries'. There was wi-fi and us grown ups made the effort to only check our phones when the little mites had gone to bed! There was also a laptop which had some downloaded family movies which might have been used once or twice. All in all, I don't think they missed the ipads that much.

Slow Dad said...

Thanks weenie.

A former neighbour with two kids about the same age as my boys once said that it was "good for kids to learn to be bored", as it prepares them for working life as an adult! She banned any form of screen time on their next holiday, which she immediately regretted once they boarded the plane. They had a lot of fun on the trip when they were able to run around and play outside, but got very travel sick on all manner of cars, buses and ferries. Wet weather days were tough on the parents though apparently.

theFIREstarter.co.uk said...

We have definitely lost the art of amusing ourselves, always relying on some gadget to do the entertaining for us now.

I guess you could argue what is the difference between, say a board game and playing one on a screen (especially if you can connect to another device and play directly with your friends/family), but I still think that it is far more social and therefore more fun for everyone if you are playing on a screen sat next to someone I would bet a lot of money that the level of conversation is less than if you were playing a physical game instead like cards.

I think weenie's family has got the right idea here. It sounds like your neighbour got one half of the equation right (remove the screens & gadgets) but completely forgot to plan the other half of it (replace them with something else). Kids can't expect to just literally amuse themselves with nothing on a 10 hour FFS :)

We used to write holiday diaries, draw pictures, and create books with games in them for ourselves to play in the car on long journeys. Will definitely be getting the little TFS(s?) to do that sort of thing when she (they?) are old enough. It was great fun!

Slow Dad said...

Thanks TFS. Things actually worked out ok for the most part. The little one refused to watch the seat back tv, spent the flight and most of the free time on the trip colouring in and playing with his cars. That said he also went on a hunger strike and refused to eat anything but buttered toast for the whole week!

The older one did descend into the iPad zone, though his style was cramped a little by the lack of internet, and cramped a lot when I kept "losing" the charger after he'd had too much screen time. It was amazing how quickly the pool and beach became viable then preferable alternative options.

theFIREstarter.co.uk said...

That is heartening to hear that the kids can quickly get back to normal, now... I just need to work on myself! :)

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