August 11, 2013

A Vegas vacation from devices and from pretentiousness

I was in Las Vegas for the past week, my third stay over the past four years. One of the most striking things about the place is how few people have their phones out, let alone laptops (of which I don't think I saw one the whole time in a public place).

Sure, there were a handful of hardcore social retards (all female Millennials) who were walking around the Strip with their heads snapped downward, but they were so few that they really stood out to me.

You might say, "Well duh, everyone is on vacation there, and who goes on vacation to re-enact the daily grind?" But you could find plenty of bored nuclear families walking around the Smithsonian / Mall area of DC and see both children and parents with phones in their hands. Or tourists in New York waiting for or riding the subway, not to mention walking around the streets pretending to fit in by being glued to their screen in public. I mean, like, that's how important people behave...

In fact, there was one situation where I did see a bunch of people in the tell-tale posture. It was outside Radio City Pizza, a trendoid restaurant with outdoor seating during the summer, at one end of Fremont Street in downtown (not the Strip), where the "old Vegas" used to be -- which has recently become the hipster Vegas, in our neo-mid-century craze. It definitely has a "Keep Vegas Weird" undercurrent.

Couples and friends were sharing small intimate tables outside on a Friday night, with pedestrians streaming by -- the perfect opportunity for socializing and people-watching, right? Instead, in every one of the four or five groups seated next to the sidewalk, at least one of the pair was staring down at a glowing screen.

"Put your phones away -- it's Vegas," I said in a raised voice while walking by, using a stern and slightly disgusted tone. I think it's telling that the only noticeable spot for cyber-cocooning was peopled by neo-Beatniks in a neo-mid-century destination.

Other than that, though, and especially on the Strip, the place is remarkably devoid of devices. There's simply too much spectacle to feel bored and in need of digital brainwave support. That must also draw a different audience than New York or DC -- people who are at least adventurous enough to turn off their screens, melt into a crowd, and enjoy each other's company. That's just living a bit too dangerously for most people these days, even aside from the potential of gambling their money away.

If you want to play it safe, to heighten your self-consciousness, and to strike the loudest poses, you go on one of those RPG vacations where you "live like a New Yorker" for a week. Or a Londoner, a Roman, an et cetera. Rent an authentic apartment, buy authentic food at an authentic neighborhood grocer's, and fill your day with other authentic quotidian activities. Why, learn how to operate a bidet, and you too can take a dump comme un vrai parisien.

In our age of oppressive pretentiousness, it's a godsend to still have an oasis like Las Vegas left for vacationers who want to forget themselves, join a spirited crowd, and get lost in the moment.


  1. ""Put your phones away -- it's Vegas,""

    See, I think that kind of thing is unfair. You're walking by them, its like taking a potshot at someone. I don't like shaming strangers, as it is not gentlemanly.


  2. Shaming strangers is part of enforcing community norms. When the community is out walking along a main drag area, and runs up against a wall-o'-phones -- especially among people who are supposed to already know each other and be enjoying each other's company -- it ruins the experience. It's one of the most powerfully anti-social sights you might see.

    I wasn't a potshot since they could have responded -- not like I did a drive-by. We were all slowly strolling. But either deep down they knew I was right, or they were too passive-aggressive to tell us the reason why being glued to a phone on Friday night on Fremont Street, in the outdoor seating area with their friend / partner, was defensible.

  3. And like I said, I spoke in a raised voice so folks could hear me, but I didn't shout. And the tone was more annoyed, disappointed, and insistent, like a stern-but-friendly reminder. Not the pissy, whiny tone of "Seriously people, wtf? In 2013, really? really?"

  4. that's a different thing if there was some friendliness in your voice. but don't get me wrong, I'm in no position to chastise you. just stating my own personal preference.


  5. Say what you will, but the fact you admonished someone for using a smartphone in Vegas puts you uncomfortably close to the woman who condemned you for listening to music on speakers at a coffee shop.

    It's a difference of degree (you didn't threaten to turn anyone in) rather than kind.

    And of course, you weren't really just enforcing community norms since you're actually attempting to reestablish anachronistic uninhibited social mores.

    Despite these caveats I agree with you. People need to look up from their flickering screens and partake of the social spaces they've chosen to be in.

  6. "the fact you admonished someone for using a smartphone in Vegas puts you uncomfortably close to the woman who condemned you for listening to music on speakers at a coffee shop."

    No way. It wasn't just "using a smartphone in Vegas" -- it was the fact that every one of the four or five groups lined up against the sidewalk had one or both of the pair staring down at a glowing screen on a Friday night on Fremont Street in the summertime.

    They were destroying the crowd-feel, while playing catchy music (softly) on speakers is inviting people to get into the crowd mood. That's what so upset that neurotic old hag -- that she wasn't being left alone in a public place, that someone was trying to engage the group to get them to have a good time.

    I just gave them a single stern, disappointed reminder. That hag from Starbucks threw a hissy fit and wouldn't let it drop for at least 10 minutes.

    "you weren't really just enforcing community norms since you're actually attempting to reestablish anachronistic uninhibited social mores."

    Not in Vegas -- like I said, everyone else was more or less on my wavelength, and didn't retreat into cyber-cocooning as their default mode out in public. So my norms *were* the prevailing norms -- about the only place left where they are. It was the hipster gadget brigade who were violating the local norms.

    Otherwise I would've just written them off as lamewads who are just doing what everyone else is doing. Like if I were in Brooklyn, strolling by a cafe or restaurant that had outdoor seating, and saw the same thing, I wouldn't utter a peep. That's just the lame hipster way of life in Brooklyn. I'd take note not to return, and let it go at that.

  7. I always think of people isolated, sitting in front of slot machines, cramming in coins, when I think of Vegas. All human interactions as competitive, soulless, superficial and based on hedonism and narcissism.

    I'm sure when people go on holiday though, they don't want to look at smartphones, and holidaymakers are more a part of the Vegas fabric.


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