It's hard to miss the social media tourists.
They sunbathe while typing and staring trance-like at their smartphones along the sand and surf.
"I want to be connected with my hometown," Jennifer Polaro, an Albany mother of four young children said as she checked Facebook updates while lounging on Fort Lauderdale beach. "I need to know what is going on. I have friends on cruises who are doing the same thing. You can't break away."
With February and March being peak months for tourism in South Florida, we're seeing them more and more. Many visitors find it hard to disconnect during vacation because they feel social (media) pressure to let their friends and followers know what they're doing and where they're doing it.
One advertising executive referred to this as FOMO, or "fear of missing out.''
"More so now than ever, they want to be connected," said Scott Thaler, executive vice president and chief interaction officer at Fort Lauderdale's Zimmerman Advertising, who follows social media consumer trends.
Erin Borgerson, in Fort Lauderdale, began her vacation with an online update for her 1,270 virtual followers: a photo of herself sunning on the beach.
"It's a habit,'' said the 23-year-old Chicagoan of her daily Facebook postings. "I have so many friends, and my mom is at home and she wants to see what I am doing."
Media analysts think there is a level of expectation at play also — that some social media users feel they're expected to be reachable 24-7.
In a 2010 study, Burst Media found 72 percent of 1,237 tourists surveyed said they used social media, email or the Internet during vacation, up 63 percent from 2009.
"When it comes to being accessible via mobile phone, there is a general expectation you are available,'' said Richard Ling, an information technology professor and author of "New Tech, New Ties: How Mobile Communication is Reshaping Social Cohesion," in an email. "We have a strong expectation that we have access to our immediate sphere of friends and family."
And the proliferation of smartphones has made it easier for travelers to post updates. A 2011 study from the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., found that one-third of American adults, or about 35 percent, own smartphones.
Kara Leabo, 22, a Fort Lauderdale spring breaker from Michigan, knows the difficulty of hanging up her smartphone. Two hours into her vacation, her iPhone sat ready by her towel so she could shoot photos and post updates.
"There is really nowhere you can't update from,'' said Leabo who photographed Borgerson on the beach behind the Ocean Manor Resort. The Facebook photo caption read: "Sun!"
Thaler, the ad exec, compared such vacation updates to cyber postcards. "It's a little bit of a brag factor,'' he said, as well as instant gratification.
He admitted to being guilty of posting while on vacation. In fact, when he and his wife traveled to Italy for their honeymoon last spring, they made sure their international data plans were up-to-date so they could upload photos. The couple also posted 187 updates about the places they visited.
"Being connected with a smartphone can also be a healthy part of a vacation experience,'' said Jessica Taylor, media relations director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, which counted 11 million visitors last year. Taylor expects about 12,000 college students to visit between February and April.
The tourism bureau helps them and their families stay connected with free social media applications that highlight local beaches, shops and spas. But, she said, "for those who really want to disconnect, they can always leave their phones back in the room."
That wasn't the case on a recent afternoon along State Road A1A, where a sea of beachgoers armed with smartphones were playing online games with friends or alerting followers of their vacation.
Angel Inman, a business analyst from New York, was one of them. She posted a Facebook update on her BlackBerry smartphone, she said, "so everybody else who has to work today can hate me."
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