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News & Advice

Juliet Kinsman: Technology makes the world smaller, but isn't that a shame?

Something to Declare

"Social" media. No doubt countless words have been expended on the irony of its name. All those platforms connecting us, yet they also fill our hotel lounges with anti-social twits.

Don't get me wrong, my Instagram and Twitter habit is an addiction – and I'm the first to try to get others hooked. I see my obsession as acceptable because I love sharing the tip-offs on great places, people and products that I discover with those who are genuinely curious. But when it comes to hotel etiquette, I'm pretty sure we all need to talk.

I went to Malaysia recently with a few other journalists. On our first evening, having travelled to the other side of the world, we were finally ensconced in a jungle retreat overlooking the sea. And because of Wi-Fi and smart phones, the first-time long-hauler in our group spent the evening tapping away at instant messages from her boyfriend and her mum back home. As the stars twinkled, palm fronds swayed and waves rolled on to the sand, our charming hosts went around the table introducing themselves. But one among our party was so engrossed in the Facebook feed on her lap that she blanked these kind providers of hospitality and food.

I'm guilty of stopping to capture an exotic scene and then often squandering time attempting to log on to temperamental internet connections when I could be switching off and soaking up new sights, sounds and smells. But I sincerely hope I still know how to interact with real people. It's not unusual, even in remote resorts, to see whole tables of people ignoring each other, faces lit up by the glow of their handheld device. Before Christmas, a Taiwanese tourist fell into Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne because she was too busy checking Facebook on her smartphone to notice that the pier she was walking along had run out.

It's a poignant reminder that the point of overseas escapades is to leave home at home. Don't just document it digitally – actually participate and enter into the true spirit of travel. Apps should be an enhancement, not a raison d'être.

Many of us succumb to "smoasting", or social media boasting; I kid myself that the picture of an off-the-wall cocktail in a glamorous lobby, or me hanging from a zip-line in the Caribbean, is providing a service to travellers. But is it really?

Tell you what, though, it doesn't half help when I've forgotten where it was that had that awesome chandelier made from bike parts (The Drake Hotel, Toronto), or which hotel has the best croissants in the West Country (The Chapel, Somerset). Many hotels embrace social media: the design of 1888 Hotel in Sydney was planned to maximise Instagrammability, while Meliá hotels have specialist concierges standing by on Twitter.

However, when it comes to us tourists, we need to know when to switch off. When I looked at that journalist's social media channels it seemed, from all the selfies and sharing of what we saw, that she had had the most thrilling adventure. Truth is, she mostly spent it solo, staring at an electronic device.

Why, when you're in a romantic paradise like Malaysia, would you only have eyes for a phone?

Juliet Kinsman is the editor-in-chief of 'Mr & Mrs Smith' (mrandmrssmith.com)