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Elizabeth Renzetti (Randy Quan)
Elizabeth Renzetti (Randy Quan)

Elizabeth Renzetti

The death of the vacation: How we forgot the virtues of indolence Add to ...

Parents who don’t like their children very much now have the perfect place to pack them away for a couple of months. It’s called Wall Street Summer Camp, and it offers kids some serious life skills that will prepare them for life in a penthouse, or prison, or possibly both.

Never mind the traditional preoccupations of summer camp – crying, scratching itchy bug bites, and kissing with braces – Wall Street Summer Camp promises that your little layabouts will “learn about the world of saving and investing,” and take exciting field trips to local stock exchanges. If you have an eight-year-old with a messy investment portfolio, now is the time to drum some sense into her daydreaming head. What child doesn’t want to spend the summer “designing her dream life, homes, cars and vacation!”

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Ah yes, vacations. There is something wonderfully ironic about sending children to money-making camp so they can afford to take time away from money. Will there even be any recognizable thing called a vacation when these kids buy their Caribbean timeshares?

The vacation is dying. In its place we have the workcation, which, as its name suggests, is an unhealthier hybrid than the cronut, and much less satisfying. Some 75 per cent of professionals take work on vacation with them, according to an Accenture survey published earlier this year. In a study released this week by Expedia.ca, 40 per cent of Canadians said they were suffering from “vacation deprivation.”

More than a quarter of the respondents in the Expedia poll said they hadn’t taken all of last year’s vacation days – and keep in mind that Canada is already winning the die-in-harness sweepstakes. We have only 10 legally mandated days of holiday a year, tying us with those slackers in China and Japan. The British start at 28 days of holiday, most of which are spent on gale-swept beaches while ravenous gulls try to pluck cheese sandwiches from their frozen fingers, but still: holiday.

Americans get zero days of paid vacation under the law, and yet manage to leave between two and 11 days of vacation unclaimed every year, a feat of math that I will leave to the kids who graduate from Wall Street camp.

You don’t have to be Karl Marx to realize that failing to properly distance yourself from work is not just bad for your mental health, but also amounts to subsidizing your employer. It says that what drives the modern worker – in a world where work is increasingly short-term, piecemeal, or stitched together like a patchwork quilt – is fear of being left behind, or trampled by your colleagues. Fear of moving too slowly may be useful if you’re a fox being chased by a hound, but it’s no way for humans to live.

It’s easy to lose perspective when your kids are at Kumon camp and every holiday snapshot of your boss shows her on her BlackBerry. (“The Taj Mahal? I wondered what that big white building was. Anyway, the reception was crap.”) I have great respect for Sheryl Sandberg’s ambitious plans, but she nearly lost me when she wrote in her manifesto Lean In – or, as I like to think of it, Keel Over – “Facebook is available 24/7 and for the most part so am I. The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or a vacation are long gone.”

More than 60 per cent of Canadians will answer work e-mails or phone calls this year, when they should be snoring under a pine tree. Almost three-quarters of the campsites in the U.S. have WiFi, as do some provincial parks in Canada, so now you can’t even avoid passive-aggressive e-mails from your team leader with the subject line, “Don’t even think about reading this till you’re back!”

The situation is terrifying for those of us who are foot soldiers in the army of the indolent (we march, or at least wander slowly, under the banner of three lawnchairs rampant. New recruits are welcome to sign up at the mojito bar.)

The army of the indolent bows down before Netflix, which offers its employees unlimited vacation. We worship Michelle Obama, who relaxes as fiercely as she works, and bans workplace discussions during family vacation. If the leader of the free world can give up office politics in favour of charades for a week, the rest of us really have no excuse.

Above all, the indolent realize that when a brain is resting it’s actually at its most receptive. If it’s quiet, wild and wonderful things nest within it. Recently, Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black and the self-described “most connected man on earth,” decided to unplug for a 25-day vacation, and wrote about the experience in Fast Company magazine. The unplugging itself was a huge enterprise, and left him briefly shaken, like a high-and-dry drunk. He was trapped, and suddenly he was free. “The greatest gift I gave myself was a renewed appreciation for disengagement, emptiness and silence,” he wrote. “Unoccupied moments are beautiful.”

Follow on Twitter: @lizrenzetti

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