Put Away Your Smartphone

Last summer, my husband and I went to Italy for a second honeymoon with stops in Verona, Florence, and Venice, but thanks to modern technology, our dream vacation turned into something of a nightmare.

The al fresco operas held in a 2,000-year-old arena in Verona are impressive with massive sets, orchestras, and choruses. As the sky darkened on the evening we went, the overture began, the singers poured onto the stage. That is also when the people directly in front of us lifted up their iGadgets and began recording the performance. Occasionally they would lower their arms for a short rest between arias, but most of the time I was forced to watch the opera through the tiny screens of their smartphones. I felt like I was watching television with the picture within a picture feature on, except the smaller image was from the same show and corrupted the fuller picture with its intrusion.

Standing in front of Michelangelo’s David, I could only see slivers of him through the forest of arms holding up cameras.

From Verona we trained to Florence where there is more art than you could shake a selfie-stick at, so we rushed over to the Galleria dell’Academia to get started with Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David.

David, at 17 feet tall, towers above the crowds in magnificent milky marble splendor. However, standing in front of the sculpture I could only see slivers of him through the forest of arms holding up smartphone and tablet cameras that our fellow tourists brandished above their heads.

Being away from the noise and frenzy of modern civilization was all I could think about as our train carried us away from frenetic Florence. I was instantly captivated by Venice’s picture-postcard views of gondolas, canals, and colorful low-slung homes. On our first night there, the disappointments of Verona and Florence drained away as we sipped Prosecco in a charming café. I could almost hear the music of Vivaldi, Venice’s native son, ringing through the damp air. But what I thought was the opening to The Four Seasons violin concerti turned out to be a text notification on the smartphone of someone at the table next to me. For the following four days, until the end of our vacation, I heard cellphone alerts in some of Venice’s finest churches, galleries, and restaurants.

I am grateful for the technology that allows me to access email, driving directions, and answers to questions I have long since forgotten like “In what year was the film Sunset Boulevard made?” at the touch of a button or two. But while we can now see or hear any masterpiece of art, performance, architecture, or postcard-worthy nature vista on any smart gadget wherever in the world we are, I would prefer to view these things the old-fashioned way — standing right in front of them, absorbed by the atmosphere that transports me to a different time and place.