The fear of switching off - or 'foso' - is real

A recent study showed half of UAE residents struggle to disconnect on holiday

Onboard Wi-Fi means people can be switched on even when they're cruising at 30,000 feet. Daniel McCullough / Unsplash
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You could be sitting on a beach in Bora Bora, wandering the Champs-Elysees in Paris or in a ski lift in the Swiss Alps, but that urge to post on Instagram or check your email will follow you even on the most idyllic holidays.

Or at least that's what a recent study by Priority Pass found. It surveyed 8,500 people across 11 countries and reported one in three people experience "the fear of switching off", or foso, as the researchers refer to it.

That includes nearly half of UAE residents, a quarter of whom check their phone every 30 minutes or less while they're on holiday, which is 10 per cent more often than the global average.

While I have a little more restraint, I'm not immune to a spot of foso. I understand the compulsion to cycle through the apps on my phone on a regular basis throughout the day – and clearly, I'm not alone.

We've even figured out how to offer Wi-Fi to passengers on planes, for crying out loud.

Now I'm not that person sharing 100 Instagram Stories a day from my jaunts. You'll get one or two every few days from me – if that – but I'm a true lurker, swiping through posts almost endlessly until I finally realise what I'm doing and throw my phone down in utter boredom.

I was at a beautiful beach club in Bali earlier this year, lying on a sunbed that overlooked the ocean and there I was, resharing posts from the Great British Memes' feed. #truestory

I'm one of those people who replies to work emails while exploring a new city, too. You might find me in a sought-after restaurant we booked months in advance, in between courses frantically responding to a non-urgent question about an article that's due well after my holiday has ended.

I'd say all in all it takes me about a week to properly switch off (or as close as I'll ever be able to), which incidentally is the same amount of time UAE residents said is their ideal holiday length, according to Priority Pass.

That's an aspect of this study I cannot relate to – I must have at least two weeks, since I spend the first seven days trying to fight off the urge to constantly clear my inbox.

Or at least I did when I was in full-time employment. Now I'm a self-employed freelancer I have to live by the mantra "time is money". Annual leave, which I admittedly miss, is simply a concept for the employed.

The study also showed six in 10 people said visiting an airport lounge before their journey helped them to switch off quicker, while others went for duty-free shopping and grabbing a bite at a restaurant before they took off.

Whoever thinks eating a burger and then buying some new headphones is stopping them from picking up their messages the moment they land is living in la-la land.

Paradoxically, the same people who experience foso are probably the ones who are also prone to fomo, the fear of missing out.

They can't switch off because they want to know what everyone else is up to in case they're missing something, and yet they're letting everything happening in front of them pass them by while they flick through the latest viral videos on TikTok (an app I've successfully avoided thus far).

I'm not sure I count myself in that camp since my scrolling has more to do with sheer mindlessness than it does making sure I'm down with the kids.

Clearly, the lesson here somewhere is that we must live in the moment. Carpe diem. Stop and smell the roses. Yolo, and all that jazz.

But let's face it, it's going to take a whole lot more than an airport lounge to stop the all-pervasive universe of social media from infiltrating our holidays, unless we're somewhere in the Mongolian steppe, where they haven't quite figured out how to provide us with seamless Wi-Fi yet (or they, quite rightly, don't want to).

We can make all the self-promises we want to disconnect, but we're mostly nosy, social beings who like to know what everyone else is up to, even if we're on the trip of a lifetime.

So I shall continue to reshare Desertmemez posts that make me "lol" without feeling guilty, even if I am 30,000 feet in the air.

Updated: October 01, 2023, 5:39 AM