Arnie WeissmannEvery year, the media college of the university I attended sends a group of undergraduates to New York to visit editors, broadcasters and professional bloggers, and it hosts a dinner where students can mix with alumni who currently work in some aspect of publishing and broadcasting.

If you've participated in a similar type of event hosted by your alma mater, you know that the professionals who attend often come away with as much information and inspiration as the students.

This year, the academic coordinator who puts the trip together suggested that a recent graduate who has a strong interest in travel journalism get together with me separately to discuss his ambitions. He has been out of school for two years and spent the time traveling the world and teaching English in Prague and Seoul.

His perspective surprised me in a few ways. He had been deeply affected by a visit to Nepal and became interested in Buddhism. He was also particularly curious about where the travel industry and the wellness movement intersect.

Part of his physical and inward journey involved a self-imposed period of "digital detox," during which he didn't check his email for three weeks.

It reminded me that when my now 19-year-old daughter was in high school, she would give up Facebook for Lent each year, despite the fact she's not a practicing Catholic.

Neither of them sought to escape the wired world because they are antisocial or disdainful of technology. They just took a break from the world of instant and constant communication.

Perhaps for them it had the added allure of time travel: To anyone who has always been electronically connected, going off the grid must be a bit like participating in a Civil War re-enactment.

Listening to the student, I couldn't help but think that digital detox is something that can be packaged and sold through the travel industry.

Under normal circumstances, it's impossible to go incommunicado. It's not just that we want to know what's going on with our businesses, friends and family, but that friends, family and business contacts expect us to be available 24/7.

A no-technology-allowed safari, cruise or spa could offer a structured escape. An agent's clients would inform their social and business circles in advance that they were dropping out for a while -- efficiently, through Facebook and Twitter.

The unknown in all this is: Would digital detox vacations help people relax or make them more anxious?

I ask because another media professional who sat at the same table of undergraduates as I did is involved in taking technology in the other direction.

He has been hired by a cable station to develop "second screen" applications. His employer has concluded that no one simply watches television anymore; they also have their phone or tablet in hand and are texting, checking email or perhaps playing a game while the TV is on.

My fellow alum's job is to entice viewers to play apps connected to the station's programming while watching the shows. It would seek to engage them on the second as well as the first screen by setting up real-time competitions among viewers, and even among viewers' circles of friends, based on the show they're all watching. (Real-time is important; it discourages recording shows on the DVR, which advertisers hate.)

Multitasking on a handheld device doesn't just happen in front of the TV; it played out at our table that night. At various points when the professionals were speaking, the students would pull out phones and check for texts. Of course, they might actually have been tweeting our pearls of wisdom, but I doubt it.

It could be that my daughter and that first student I spoke with are unusual millennials in that they chose to go through digital detox. But I'm guessing there are enough others across the generations to support a travel niche based around the concept that "there's no 'e' in 'vacation.'"

Perhaps someone ought to write a book about incorporating small moments of digital detox into our everyday lives. It would sort the world into what should be done electronically and what could be done face-to-face.

The goal would be not only to foster more human interaction but to identify practices that actually give more satisfying results when done offline.

Book point-to-point air online, for example. But plan your next digital detox vacation with a travel professional.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.


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