Smartphones can hurt trips, relationships

In this July 2011 file photo, one of the pages of ""Today's Deals,"" appears on the screen of an iPhone, in New York.

On vacation, Annabel Fernandez watched as her husband splashed in the pool with their twin daughters. Between the giggling and water play, she saw him glancing at his iPhone on the pool’s ledge. The night before, she had caught him checking email on his smartphone at dinner.

As the number of smartphone users rises, so does the level of anxiety and friction around using them. Downsizing and economic realities have left workers with a real fear of what might happen if they are out of touch too long. The fear has turned into a compulsion that has workers tethered to their mobile phones. But for the spouse, partner, friend or travel companion of a smartphone addict, the fear can ruin a vacation, a night out or, worse, a relationship.

“When you’re on the phone you’re ignoring the person you are traveling with; that creates resentment,” said Kimberly Young, a psychologist and director of Center for Internet Addiction Recovery.

While smartphone addiction has been difficult to track, in a survey by mobile-services provider iPass, 91 percent of mobile users said they use their free time to check their smartphones. Among those, almost 30 percent check their smartphones three to five times an hour.

Travel companions say the problem often comes to a head during leisure activity when the goal is to reconnect.

Miami marketing strategist Michelle Villalobos says the only way to travel with a smartphone addict is to establish the rules upfront.

“If you wait until you’re in the moment, you find yourself in the situation where the other person is looking at you like, ‘Who are you, the cellphone police?’ ”

Making the rules together and negotiating is key. Some people really do need to be accessible and forcing them to disconnect could create business challenges, Young said.

Jodi Stoner, a Miami Beach clinical psychologist and co-author of “Good Manners Are Contagious,” says the first step may be getting your travel partner to see the problem. She suggests this approach: “Our hope is to take vacations to connect and when you’re on your phone we don’t feel important or connected to you.”

By her own admission, publicist Julie Talenfeld, founder of Boardroom Communications in Plantation, Fla., is a smartphone addict, calling it part work, part fun.

“I know I’m an addict but I’m always looking at breaking news and getting story ideas to pitch,” Talenfeld said.

Her husband, attorney Howard Talenfeld, says he’s even gone as far as hiding her iPhone when they’re on vacation.

The couple say they’re working to confine wireless-gadget use to morning hours. Beyond that, Howard Talenfeld says he has chosen to vacation in the mountains, where cell reception is less accessible.

Mary Harris fields workplace concerns as senior vice president of marketing and public relations with BankUnited and a certified etiquette consultant. Harris says most people understand that workplace emergencies crop up but there are ways to handle it.

“If you’ve dedicated time to vacation or a lunch, you should commit to that time. If you have to take a call or check for a certain email, apologize up front and only take that call,” she said.

She believes our addiction to checking our gadgets while in the company of others has become a habit.

Harris believes even high-level executives need to accept being inaccessible.

It’s good for your business brand, she said: “You’re that person who someone can’t have a conversation with or vacation with because you’re obsessed with your phone. At the end of day, we all have limited free time, and people are going to make decisions about whether to hang out with you.”