My Wonderfully (Not!) Disconnected Summer Vacation

My mobile dependency recently came crashing down on my family and me, and we're still shaking from the withdrawal symptoms.

Since I'm "in the business," I am very well aware of how mobile smart phone usage has taken off like wildfire over the past few years.  I know so many people who five years ago said they would never own a smart phone.  Guess what?  Today they own a smart phone and are glued to it constantly. 

Consumer time spent on mobile is increasing while time spent with most other media is decreasing, according to research from eMarketer. By 2018, it is expected that the average US adult will spend an average of 3 hours and 23 minutes per day on their smart phone.  80% of that time will be spent in mobile apps while the other 20% through mobile web.

But I learned recently that it's one thing to be up on the latest statistics and forecasts, and quite another to plunge headfirst into the mobile-less abyss.  It made me long for the days when a vacation hardship meant your hotel didn't offer HBO.



My descent into darkness occurred a few weeks ago when my family and I vacationed in Door County, Wisconsin, the peninsula north of Milwaukee. With extended family, our trip included five adults and six kids ranging in age from 6 to 18 years old (I still count the 18-year-old as a "kid," a sure sign that my own youth has long passed).

Before we left on our journey I was given a heads up that cell phone service might be spotty.  I soon learned that "spotty" was a charitable description, as in "the chance of pigs flying is spotty." 

But not only was cell service non-existent, we quickly discovered that Wi-Fi in the resort was pretty much non-existent as well.  At first, these revelations seemed to offer a welcome respite from the digital world, presenting us with a rare opportunity to disconnect and relax.

That naive notion was short-lived.

The kids acted more like they were in jail than on vacation. The older ones, in particular, were beside themselves over the fact that they couldn't check in and keep up on their social media. 

Still, I persisted in the notion that this was an opportunity to unplug and relax.  Until, that is, I needed to use Google Maps to figure out how to get to some nearby attractions and a restaurant for dinner.

Like Clark Griswold in the National Lampoon Vacation movies (analogy courtesy of the kids, who apparently were still able log onto their sarcasm apps), I had to go to the nearest convenience store to pick up a paper map. A paper map! You know, the kind that you need to unfold 25 times before it's fully opened, and then can never fold up properly again (you'll understand that reference if you're 20+).

The kids thought it was hilarious to see one of the adults who had been lecturing them a few hours earlier about how it would be good for them to be disconnected, have a little temper tantrum of his own! 

The point of this story is that as someone who lives, eats and breathes marketing for clients daily, even I had my eyes opened at just how truly connected the majority of consumers are these days.  Consumers utilize their mobile device as a lifeline to all parts of the outside world whether it is social media, maps, email, news, music, you name it…it is typically the first thing we all do when the alarm clock wakes us up in the morning and the last thing we do before falling asleep at night.

In late 2014 we hit the “mobile tipping point” which is when accessing of the internet through mobile devices actually moved ahead of that of the traditional desktop or laptop computer. 

The following show some key trends in this area as of 2017:

•             Nearly 75 percent of US adults will use a smartphone in 2017, as market penetration continues to increase

•             This year, more than eight in 10 internet users will use a mobile phone to access the web regularly. It is expected that nearly 87% of internet users will access the web regularly by mobile phone by 2021.

•             Nearly 15% of internet users, or 40.7 million individuals, will use only a mobile device to go online in 2017.  The number of mobile-only internet users will continue to rise as more people abandon internet usage via desktop/laptop.

•             Over three-quarters of internet users will continue to access the internet via both a mobile device and PC in 2017, adding roughly nine million new users throughout the forecast period. However, as a result of more people using just their mobile device for online access, the multi-device internet user share will start to shrink by 2020.

eMarketer projects that next year 91% of those between 12 – 17 years of age will regularly use a smart phone. 

My eye-opening experience (OK, trauma) puts a real-life face on all these numbers.  It made me more passionate than ever to convey to marketers that they must prioritize mobile as the “first screen” that it has truly become. When you have a device that people can't seem to live without, I think it's fair to say that as a marketer you absolutely must have a presence on that device. 

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